Court Settles Debate Over Woman’s Last Will and Testament

The woman’s family and her church both claimed a certificate of deposit.

Church Law and Tax 1991-03-01 Recent Developments

Wills, Trusts, and Estates

A Tennessee appeals court was asked whether a last will and testament left a $100,000 certificate of deposit to her church, or to her relatives. The will specified that “I have not made a devise or bequest to any of my relatives in this will because they are all financially secure in their own right and do not need any little thing I have to offer.” The will also stated: “I direct that my executor shall allow the members of my family to select such item or items from my clothing, jewelry, household goods, personal effects and all other tangible personal property not otherwise specifically bequeathed, except securities and cash on hand or on deposit, as each of them may desire or want …. In the event that there is any of said personal property remaining, my executor is directed to sell the remaining property at public or private sale, as deemed most appropriate by my executor, and the proceeds therefrom shall be paid to the Eastminster Presbyterian Church.” At the time of her death, the woman owned a $100,000 certificate of deposit (in her name only) at a local bank. The church, and the woman’s relatives, both claimed to be entitled to the certificate of deposit on the basis of these provisions in the will. A trial court agreed with the church, and the relatives appealed. The state appeals court ruled that the relatives were entitled to the certificate of deposit. The court observed that the woman’s heirs were allowed to select items of “clothing, jewelry, household goods, personal effects and all other tangible personal property not otherwise specifically bequeathed, except securities and cash.” The only benefit the church received under the will was the proceeds from the sale of items other than securities or cash that the heirs did not select. Since the certificate of deposit was part of the “securities and cash” of the woman’s estate, the church had no claim to it under the will. In re Estate of Jackson, 793 S.W.2d 259 (Tenn. App. 1990).

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