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Wills, Trusts and Estates - Part 1

An Ohio state appeals court was asked to determine whether an ambiguous clause in a decedent's last will and testament left her estate to a local Methodist church. The will, which was executed in 1951, conveyed a large portion of the estate to a local charity with the stipulation that the funds be used to "build." If the charity did not use the funds to "build" within 10 years of receipt, then the funds (with interest) were to be distributed to a local Methodist church. Following the decedent's death in 1984, the charity accepted its share of the estate, and proposed to use the funds to remodel its present structure rather than build a new one. A trial judge ruled that the term "build" (as contained in the will) meant either to build a new building or remodel the current facility. The church appealed this decision, and a state appeals court ruled that "simply put, 'build' means [to] build." The court continued, "the word 'build' is defined in Webster's New World Dictionary as 'to make by putting together materials, to construct.' The words 'remodel' and 'refurbish' are not synonyms for the work 'build.'" Accordingly, the appeals court concluded that if the charity did not use the funds to build a new facility, then the funds had to be transferred to the church. Riegel v. United Methodist Church (Ohio App. unpublished opinion 1989).

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  • May 1, 1990