Court Holds That Devise Of “Personal Property” In A Will Included Tangible And Intangible Property, Including Money In Bank Accounts

Originally published by David Fowler Johnson.

In In re Estate of Debra E. Hunt v. Arabia Vargas, a trial court granted summary judgment interpreting a will to devise a large share of the testatrix’s personal property to her life partner. No. 01-19-00216-CV, 2020 Tex. App. LEXIS 1036 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] February 6, 2020, no pet. history). The will stated: “I give all of my remaining household and personal property to Arabia Vargas.” The partner contended that the testatrix bequeathed to her all personal property-including intangible personal property such as the bank accounts. The residuary beneficiaries argued that the bequest of personal property was limited to household items and tangible personal property and that intangible personal property, including the money in bank accounts, and real property were subject to the will’s residuary clause to them. The probate court sided with the partner and declared that the testatrix had bequeathed all personal property to the partner other than the specific items bequeathed to another individual. The residuary beneficiaries appealed.

The appellate court first discussed the general rules for interpreting the term “property” in a will:

In a will, an unqualified reference to “property” encompasses everything of exchangeable value that the testator owned, including real and personal property whether tangible or intangible. In its ordinary usage, the term “property” is comprehensive. “Personal property,” in contrast, excludes real property but otherwise remains broad in definition, including everything other than real property that is subject to ownership. Because “personal property” has a settled legal meaning, a court ordinarily need not look beyond these words to ascertain a testator’s intent if she uses them. The legal definition of “personal property” is so well established that it generally does not allow for an interpretation other than the one ascribed to it by the law.

Id. The appellate court disagreed with six different arguments raised by the residuary beneficiaries and held that the bequest unambiguously conveyed all of the testatrix’s personal property-tangible and intangible-to the partner. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s judgment.

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