Feeney, J. v. Feeney and Feeney, S. v. Feeney

April 12, 2018

Record No: 170031 (As published by the Virginia Supreme Court) In combined suits concerning a will’s residuary clause, which the parties agreed was unambiguous and its meaning could be decided on summary judgment without the aid of extrinsic evidence, limitations expressed in the will, taken as a whole, manifestly demonstrate the testator’s intention to restrict a widow’s interest in the residual property, creating a life estate by implication, impaired to the extent of the limitations expressed therein. Any other construction would render most of the operative language meaningless. The circuit court’s conclusion to the contrary is reversed. The doctrine of “judicial instructions” (allowing recovery of attorney fees) has not been explicitly recognized in Virginia but, if it exists in the Commonwealth, this doctrine only applies where there is an ambiguity in the testator’s will or trust instruments, and here the parties agree that the residuary clause is unambiguous. Thus, the circuit court did not err in denying recovery of attorneys’ fees in this suit. The judgment is affirmed in part, reversed in part, and the matters are remanded for further proceedings. Combined case with Record No. 170032

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