Blackmon v. Weaver, No. 4030.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtStilwell
Citation621 S.E.2d 42
PartiesLana Odom BLACKMON, Individually and as Personal Representative of the Will and Estate of J.B. Blackmon, Jr., Deceased, Appellant, v. Jennifer B. WEAVER, Edmund Cole Weaver as Trustee for Nicholas Weaver, Mary Heath and J.B. Blackmon, III, Respondents.
Decision Date17 October 2005
Docket NumberNo. 4030.

Page 42

621 S.E.2d 42
Lana Odom BLACKMON, Individually and as Personal Representative of the Will and Estate of J.B. Blackmon, Jr., Deceased, Appellant,
v.
Jennifer B. WEAVER, Edmund Cole Weaver as Trustee for Nicholas Weaver, Mary Heath and J.B. Blackmon, III, Respondents.
No. 4030.
Court of Appeals of South Carolina.
Heard October 13, 2004.
Decided October 17, 2005.

Page 43

B. Michael Brackett, of Columbia, for Appellant.

Adele Jeffords Pope, of Columbia, for Respondents.

STILWELL, J.:


Lana Blackmon, the personal representative and a beneficiary under her late husband's will, requested the probate court to construe the will. After removal to the circuit court, the judge construed the will to grant Lana an estate less than one for life and removed her as personal representative. Lana appeals, and we reverse.

FACTS

J.B. Blackmon and Lana Odom were married in February 2000 after a courtship lasting approximately six years. It was J.B.'s fourth marriage and Lana's third. Prior to the marriage, J.B. had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and in February of 2001, he died. J.B.'s will named Lana personal representative and devised to her an interest in the estate. The will also devised interests to J.B.'s three children from his first marriage, Jennifer Weaver, Mary Heath, and J.B. Blackmon, III. The nature of the parties' interests in the estate property is at the heart of this action. J.B.'s will reads in pertinent part:

Second: I give, devise and bequeath all of my property whether real, personal or mixed, whatsoever and wheresoever situate, whether now owned by me or to me or hereafter acquired by me, to my wife, Lana Odom Blackmon for and during her natural life or until such time as she no longer desires the property.

Sixth: That if the desire of my wife to sell any or all of my property and assets then my wife, Mary B. Heath, J.B. Blackmon, III and Jennifer B. Weaver, shall share equally in the sale of such assets or proceeds from the sale of such assets.

Lana argues she has a life estate in all of J.B.'s property pursuant to these provisions. The children take the position that J.B.'s devise does not permit Lana to dispose of some of the assets, specifically the family farm and certain stocks.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

An action to construe a will is an action at law. NationsBank of S.C. v. Greenwood, 321 S.C. 386, 392, 468 S.E.2d 658, 662 (Ct.App.1996). An action to remove a personal representative is equitable in nature. Dean v. Kilgore, 313 S.C. 257, 259, 437 S.E.2d 154, 155 (Ct.App.1993). When legal and equitable causes of action are maintained

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in one suit, the court is presented with a divided scope of review. Perry v. Heirs at Law and Distributees of Gadsden, 313 S.C. 296, 300 n. 3, 437 S.E.2d 174, 177 n. 3 (Ct.App.1993) (aff'd as modified, 316 S.C. 224, 449 S.E.2d 250 (1994)). On appeal from an action at law that was tried without a jury, the appellate court can correct errors of law, but the findings of fact will not be disturbed unless found to be without evidence which reasonably supports the judge's findings. Townes Assoc. Ltd. v. City of Greenville, 266 S.C. 81, 86, 221 S.E.2d 773, 775 (1976). In an equitable action tried without a jury, the appellate court can correct errors of law and may find facts in accordance with its own view of the preponderance of the evidence. Id. at 86, 221 S.E.2d at 775-76.

LAW/ANALYSIS

I. Will Construction

Lana argues the trial court erred in construing the will to grant her a limited right of use and enjoyment in the family farm and related personal property. We agree.

Lana requests that this court construe her interest as a life estate with the power of disposition. Our courts have previously recognized such an interest. See Johnson v. Waldrop, 256 S.C. 372, 374-76, 182 S.E.2d 730, 731 (1971) (finding a life estate with a complete power to dispose and consume); Thomason v. Hellams, 233 S.C. 11, 15, 103 S.E.2d 324, 325 (1958) (holding that "[a] deed, devise or bequest for life with power of disposition and remainder to another (of such property as is not disposed of by the first taker) is valid."). In this case, the trial court took a clear provision of the will creating a life estate and then reduced it by construing the language of a subsequent provision. We refuse to do so.

Item two reads as follows: "I give, devise and bequeath all of my property ... to my wife ... for and during her natural life." These words clearly indicate J.B.'s intent to give a life estate in all of his property to Lana. Where the wording of a will is clear and unambiguous, the testator's intention must be ascertained from the language utilized. Shelley v. Shelley, 244 S.C. 598, 602, 137 S.E.2d 851, 853 (1964). There is no special language required for the creation of a life estate; courts will look to the intention of the creator of the estate. See 28 AM.JUR.2D Estates § 67 (2005). The trial court, relying on the limiting language "or until such time as she no longer desires the property," determined that J.B. granted Lana only the limited right of use and enjoyment to the property. However, we do not believe this was a correct application of the law. "[W]here an estate or interest is given in words of clear and ascertained legal signification, it shall not be enlarged, cut down, or destroyed by superadded words in the same or subsequent clauses, unless they raise an irresistible inference that such was the intention." McGirt v. Nelson, 360 S.C. 307, 311, 599 S.E.2d 620, 622 (Ct.App.2004) (internal citations omitted).

J.B.'s intent is further evidenced by an examination of item six. Item six unequivocally grants Lana the authority to dispose of the entirety of the estate's assets subject to J.B.'s children receiving a portion of the proceeds of any sale. To hold, in the face of this language, that Lana was not given the right to dispose of the property would require us to completely ignore this provision as it is written. To do so would be error. See Hays v. Adair, 267 S.C. 291, 296, 227 S.E.2d 665, 667-68 (1976) (stating that "[a] proper construction seeks to harmonize the various provisions and a construction which gives meaning to all should be preferred over one which renders some provisions meaningless."); see also May v. Riley, 279 S.C. 248, 250-51, 305 S.E.2d 77, 78 (1983) (considering two provisions and concluding that neither can be ignored).

A court may not "by judicial construction make a will for the decedent that he has not made for himself." Guaranty Bank & Trust Co. v. Byrd, 287 S.C. 96, 99, 337 S.E.2d 231, 233 (Ct.App.1985) (quoting Coffman v. Coffman, 85 Va. 459, 466, 8 S.E. 672, 675 (1888)), rev'd on other grounds, 292 S.C. 187, 355 S.E.2d 529 (1986). Because the language of J.B.'s will clearly shows his intent to grant his wife a life estate with the

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power of disposition, we reverse the ruling of the trial court.

I...

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15 practice notes
  • Wright v. Craft, No. 4181.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • November 27, 2006
    ...each action retains its own identity as legal or equitable for purposes of review on appeal. Blackmon v. Weaver, 366 S.C. 245, 248-49, 621 S.E.2d 42, 44 (Ct.App.2005); Kiriakides v. Atlas Food Sys. & Servs., Inc., 338 S.C. 572, 580, 527 S.E.2d 371, 375 (Ct. App.2000) (citations omitted)......
  • Holcombe-Burdette v. Bank of America, No. 4180.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • November 27, 2006
    ...unless found to be without evidence which reasonably supports the judge's findings." Blackmon v. Weaver, 366 S.C. 245, 249, 621 S.E.2d 42, 44 (Ct.App.2005). Because Personal Representative has admitted that no facts are in dispute in this case, this court can review conclusions of law ......
  • Santoro v. Schulthess, No. 4575.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • July 1, 2009
    ...of law and may find facts in accordance with its own view of the preponderance of the evidence. Blackmon v. Weaver, 366 S.C. 245, 248-49, 621 S.E.2d 42, 43-44 (Ct.App.2005) (internal citations omitted); see also Fields v. J. Haynes Waters Builders, Inc., 376 S.C. 545, 564, 658 S.E.2d 80, 90......
  • Ex Parte Wheeler v. Estate of Green, No. 4494.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • January 30, 2009
    ...the more stringent standard at law. A case may involve both equitable and legal issues. See Blackmon v. Weaver, 366 S.C. 245, 248-49, 621 S.E.2d 42, 43-44 (Ct.App.2005). However, an appellate court must look to the main 673 S.E.2d 840 purpose of the proceeding in order to determine the stan......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
15 cases
  • Wright v. Craft, No. 4181.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • November 27, 2006
    ...each action retains its own identity as legal or equitable for purposes of review on appeal. Blackmon v. Weaver, 366 S.C. 245, 248-49, 621 S.E.2d 42, 44 (Ct.App.2005); Kiriakides v. Atlas Food Sys. & Servs., Inc., 338 S.C. 572, 580, 527 S.E.2d 371, 375 (Ct. App.2000) (citations omitted)......
  • Holcombe-Burdette v. Bank of America, No. 4180.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • November 27, 2006
    ...unless found to be without evidence which reasonably supports the judge's findings." Blackmon v. Weaver, 366 S.C. 245, 249, 621 S.E.2d 42, 44 (Ct.App.2005). Because Personal Representative has admitted that no facts are in dispute in this case, this court can review conclusions of law ......
  • Santoro v. Schulthess, No. 4575.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • July 1, 2009
    ...of law and may find facts in accordance with its own view of the preponderance of the evidence. Blackmon v. Weaver, 366 S.C. 245, 248-49, 621 S.E.2d 42, 43-44 (Ct.App.2005) (internal citations omitted); see also Fields v. J. Haynes Waters Builders, Inc., 376 S.C. 545, 564, 658 S.E.2d 80, 90......
  • Ex Parte Wheeler v. Estate of Green, No. 4494.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • January 30, 2009
    ...the more stringent standard at law. A case may involve both equitable and legal issues. See Blackmon v. Weaver, 366 S.C. 245, 248-49, 621 S.E.2d 42, 43-44 (Ct.App.2005). However, an appellate court must look to the main 673 S.E.2d 840 purpose of the proceeding in order to determine the stan......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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