Estate of Shoptaugh, In re

Decision Date16 September 1985
Docket NumberNo. 1-185A24,1-185A24
Citation482 N.E.2d 1142
PartiesIn re the ESTATE OF Isabelle SHOPTAUGH, Deceased, Adolph M. Egloff and Martha Byrne Brokaw, Co-Executors (Petition to Construe Will of Decedent).
CourtIndiana Appellate Court

Jerry D. Stilwell, Princeton, for appellant.

Danny E. Glass, Fine, Hatfield, Sparrenberger & Fine, Evansville, for appellee.

RATLIFF, Presiding Judge.


Martha Byrne Brokaw appeals a judgment of the Gibson Circuit Court construing the will of Isabelle Shoptaugh, deceased, declaring that certain corporate stocks found in a desk in decedent's residence were not included in a devise of the house and contents. We affirm.


Isabelle Shoptaugh died on May 22, 1983, and her last will and testament dated July 5, 1978, was probated on July 1, 1983. Shoptaugh's estate was valued at in excess of $1,600,000. Item III of her will, which is the one subject to controversy, provided as follows: "I give, devise and bequeath all real estate, together with all contents situate in, on and about the improvements on the real estate so owned by me at the date of my demise unto my niece, Martha Byrne Brokaw, of Princeton, Indiana." Shoptaugh's will made several specific bequests for charitable purposes, bequeathed 180 shares of bank stock to a nephew, and left the residue to twenty-seven nieces, nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews, including Brokaw, in equal shares.

When the assets of the estate were inventoried, six stock certificates were found in a desk drawer in the textatrix' home. These certificates represented corporate stocks valued at $121,000. Evidence admitted without objection at the hearing on the petition to construe the will revealed that all six certificates bore a date subsequent to the date of Shoptaugh's will, and five of them were dated later than her last visit to her safety deposit box. There also was testimony that Shoptaugh had responded negatively when asked if she had any other things she wished to place in her lock box.

Brokaw claims she is entitled to the stocks represented by these six certificates as "contents" of the house devised to her. If her position is correct, the share of each residuary legatee will be reduced by approximately $4500.


The sole issue for our determination is whether the devise of Shoptaugh's house and contents included the stocks represented by the six stock certificates found in a desk drawer in the house. Or, stated differently, are the stock certificates within the definition of the term "contents" as used in the will?


In construing the will, it is our duty to determine and give effect to the intent of the testatrix. In so doing, we seek to determine that intent from the four corners of the instrument. Estate of Ensminger v. Indiana National Bank (1969), 144 Ind.App. 338, 246 N.E.2d 217, trans. denied. When that intent is clearly expressed, such intent must be given effect in the construction of the will. On the other hand, where the intent is not clearly expressed, or is couched in ambiguous terms, we will look to established rules of construction in ascertaining the intentions of the testatrix. Estate of Ensminger, 144 Ind.App. at 347-48, 246 N.E.2d at 223; Apple v. Methodist Hospital (1965), 138 Ind.App. 420, 206 N.E.2d 625, trans. denied. It is further the rule that words in a will are to be understood to have been used by the testatrix in their common and ordinary sense and meaning. Estate of Ensminger, 144 Ind.App. at 348, 246 N.E.2d at 223.

Our task in this case is to determine the meaning of the word "contents" in a devise of a house and its contents. Although this question has been the subject of much litigation, Re Falvey's Will (1962), 15 App.Div.2d 415, 224 N.Y.S.2d 899, 5 A.L.R.3d 458, it is one of first impression in Indiana. 1 Therefore, we must look to other jurisdictions for guidance.

First, because the provision in question does not list any specific items of property before using the word "contents", the doctrine of ejusdem generis 2 has no application. Old Colony Trust Co. v. Hale (1939), 302 Mass. 68, 18 N.E.2d 432. See also Estate of Ensminger, 144 Ind.App. at 346, 246 N.E.2d at 222, (where term "personal effects" placed at beginning of list of items of personal property rather than at end, doctrine of ejusdem generdis did not apply). Unaided by ejusdem generis, we must determine the meaning of the term "contents" in the context used in Shoptaugh's will from a consideration of other rules.

It is the general rule that, unless a contrary intention is clearly expressed in the will, a devise of a house and its contents does not include choses in action such as stock certificates, bank accounts, checks, insurance policies, deeds, mortgages, and securities which are found in the house. McLane v. Chancey (1947), 211 Ark. 280, 200 S.W.2d 782; Linson v. Crapps (1948), 204 Ga. 264, 49 S.E.2d 523; Old Colony Trust Co. v. Hale (1939), 302 Mass. 68, 18 N.E.2d 432; In re Estate of Lamb (1971), 445 Pa. 323, 285 A.2d 163; Matter of Estate of Rudy (1984), 329 Pa.Super. 458, 478 A.2d 879; Re Falvey's Will (1962), 15 App.Div.2d 415, 224 N.Y.S.2d 899, 5 A.L.R.3d 458; 80 Am.Jur.2d, Wills, Sec. 1277 (1975); Annot: 5 A.L.R.3d 466, 550. Generally speaking, absent an expression of contrary intent, the gift of the "contents" of a home is limited to those things ordinarily identified with a home. In re Estate of Rothko (1974), 77 Misc.2d 168, 352 N.Y.S.2d 574; In re Robbins Estate (1976), 116 N.H. 248, 356 A.2d 679. As the Supreme Court of Georgia said in Linson, 49 S.E.2d at 524:

"The word 'contents' is a word of comprehensive meaning, and the words 'contents of said home' are sufficient to convey ... the household effects and such articles as are normally and usually kept for household and family use. The general rule is, however, that the words 'contents of a home' do not include deeds, mortgages, insurance policies, savings-bank books, and like items which might be classed as choses in action."

Other cases have reached the same result by considering other factors in addition to the general rule. Wright v. Dzienis (1962), 77 N.J.Super. 455, 187 A.2d 8 (devise of real estate "together with all my household chattels and contents therein" did not include cash in bedroom footlocker. Term "household chattels" does not in normal contemplation include cash in the house whether lying about or in some kind of receptacle. Court also applied rule of ejusdem generis ); Quick v. Owens (1941), 198 S.C. 29, 15 S.E.2d 837 (bequest of "all of the household furniture and fixtures and other personal property in the premises" did not include $8642.26 in cash in a trunk. Ejusdem generis applied.); In re Marin's Estate (1945), 69 Cal.App.2d 147, 158 P.2d 412 (bequest of "all the personal property, household furniture, furnishings, bric-a-brac ornaments and equipment of whatsoever nature or description which may be located in, upon, or about [my residence] at the time of my death", did not include war bonds found in the residence. Ejusdem generis applied.).

Cases which have reached a contrary result generally are distinguishable because of the particular language employed in the will. In Turner v. Estate of Fletcher (1972), 252 Ark. 917, 483 S.W.2d 176, a devise of a life estate in a farm residence and realty and "all furnishings, fixtures, appliances, silverware, utensils, jewelry, sporting goods, personal effects, and every other kind of personal property of any kind or nature that may be contained in my said home" was held to include traveler's...

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8 cases
  • In re Frazier
    • United States
    • U.S. Bankruptcy Court — Western District of Arkansas
    • 8 October 1991
    ...540 F.2d 548 (2d Cir.1976), cited in Wightman v. American Nat'l Bank of Riverton, 610 P.2d 1001 (Wyo.1980); In re Estate of Shoptaugh, 482 N.E.2d 1142 (Ind.Ct.App. 1985); Walton v. Piqua State Bank, 204 Kan. 741, 466 P.2d 316 (1970); Gallagher v. Rogan, 322 Pa. 315, 185 A. 707 (1936); 4 Col......
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    • Mississippi Supreme Court
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    ...certificates, bank accounts, checks, insurance policies, deeds, mortgages, and securities found in a home. In re Estate of Shoptaugh, 482 N.E.2d 1142, 1144 (Ind.Ct. App.1985) (citing McLane v. Chancey, 211 Ark. 280, 200 S.W.2d 782 (1947); Linson v. Crapps, 204 Ga. 264, 49 S.E.2d 523 (1948);......
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    ...of construction, intangible personal property does not pass under a bequest of the contents of a house. See In re Estate of Shoptaugh, 482 N.E.2d 1142, 1144 (Ind.Ct.App.1985); Old Colony Trust Co. v. Hale, 302 Mass. 68, 18 N.E.2d 432, 433 (1939); In re Estate of Lamb, 445 Pa. 323, 285 A.2d ......
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    ...of said home" did not include government bonds found in dresser drawer in the home at the time of death); In re Estate of Shoptaugh, 482 N.E.2d 1142, 1145 (Ind.Ct.App.1985)(six stock certificates found in decedent's house held not included in devise of house and "all contents"); In re Estat......
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