Legal Memorandum: Interpretation of the Phrase "Unable to Accept"

Issue: How have courts previously interpreted the phrase "unable to accept"?

Area of Law: Estate Planning & Probate
Keywords: Unable to accept; Interpretation; Testator's intent
Jurisdiction: California
Cited Cases: 114 Cal. Rptr. 2d 865; 505 N.E.2d 413; 37 S.E.2d 55; 10 N.E.2d 117; 74 Cal. App. 2d 405; 168 P.2d 432; 255 N.W.2d 483; 59 A.2d 570; 65 A.2d 843
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 05/01/2007

“Because the meaning of a will depends on the testator’s intention, precedent is of small value.  The same words used by different testators may have different meanings because the testators had different intentions.”  Estate of Kaila, 94 Cal. App. 4th 1122, 1131, 114 Cal. Rptr. 2d 865, 872 (2001) (quoting 3 Cal. Decedent Estate Practice (Cont. Ed. Bar 2001) § 24.7, at 24-13); see also In re Obrien’s Estate, 74 Cal. App. 2d 405, 408, 168 P.2d 432 (1946) (stating that it is the court’s “duty to try to ascertain what the testator had in mind . . . . On such an issue precedents are of but little value, except for the establishment of certain general rules.”).

Nonetheless, a quick review of other cases applying the “unable to accept” terminology may shed additional light on how that phrase has been applied.*FN1  It appears that such terminology has often been employed in the context of charitable gifts, or gifts to corporations.  In In re Ganser’s Estate, 255 N.W.2d 483 (Wis. 1977), for instance, the court considered whether a medical school that had severed ties with its previously affiliated university was unable to accept a bequest to “the university’s medical school,” holding that it was the testator’s intent to benefit medical education, such that the medical school was not unable to accept, even though it was no longer connected with the university named in the instrument.  See also […]

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