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Mahoney v. Grainger

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
283 Mass. 189, 186 N.E. 86 (Mass. 1933)

Mahoney v. Grainger


Helen A. Sullivan, an unmarried sixty-four year old school teacher, hired an attorney 10 days before her death to draft a will for her. When he asked who she wanted to leave the residue of her estate to and who her closest relatives were, she said she had twenty-five first cousins who she wanted to share the residue equally. Her attorney drafted a will that left the residue of her estate to her “heirs at law living at the time of my decease . . . . to be divided among them equally, share and share alike.” The attorney read the will to Sullivan and she signed it. However, when Sullivan died, her sole heir at law was her maternal aunt. Some of Sullivan’s first cousins filed a petition for distribution of a legacy, which the probate court denied, holding that the language “heirs at law” was not ambiguous, and therefore testimony of Sullivan’s stated intentions could not be introduced to prove the meaning of the language used in the will. The cousins appealed to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Rugg, C.J.)

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