Dawson v. Yucus
97 Ill. App. 2d 101, 239 N.E.2d 305 (1968)

  • Stewart died leaving a valid will. The will gave half of Stewart’s interest in some land to her nephew Wilson, and half to her nephew Burtle.
    • Burtle predeceased Stewart.
    • The land was originally owned by her late husband and Stewart stated that she wanted to give it back to the husband’s side of the family.
      • The nephews were her husband’s brother’s children, they were not related to Stewart by blood.
  • All lapsed gifts go along with the residual estate, which in this case went to Yucas, who was also the executor.
  • Wilson contested the will. He claimed that he and Burtle were a class, and that since Burtle was dead, Wilson should get 100% of the interest in the land.
    • A class gift is one where a testator gives $$$ to a class of people, such as “all my children.”
      • Different States deal with anti-lapse issues involving class gifts differently.
  • Wilson then gave his half of the property to Burtle’s two kids (represented by Dawson), and dropped out of the lawsuit.
    • Probably what was happening was that Dawson lived on the property and Wilson wanted him to have the whole thing free and clear. If the gift to Burtle lapsed, then it went to Yucas, who was not a family member.
  • The Trial Court found for Yucas. Dawson appealed.
    • The Trial Court found that there was a latent ambiguity in the text of the will.
      • That allows the Court to look at extrinsic evidence in order to determine the testator’s intent.
    • The Trial Court found that the clause did not create a class gift and therefore under Illinois State law, the gift to Burtle had lapsed and went to Yucas as part of the residual estate.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed.
    • The Appellate Court defined a class gift as, “a gift of an aggregate sum to a body of persons uncertain in number at the time of the gift, to be ascertained at a future time, and who are all to take in equal of in some other definite proportions, the share of each being dependent for its amount upon the ultimate number of persons.”
    • Yucas argued that since Stewart named Wilson and Burtle by name in her will, she was not creating a class gift. She should have done so by leaving the property to, “my nephews.”
      • However, courts have found this reasoning to be persuasive, but not conclusive.
    • The Appellate Court noted that Stewart gave Wilson and Burtle each “one-half” of the property. That limited the gift to the two named people, since if a third nephew had been born, they couldn’t have given three people one-half each. Since the gift was to only be split two ways, it could not be considered a class gift.
      • This is true even if Wilson and Burtle’s parents were deceased so it was physically impossible for the class to increase in membership.
  • The Court also noted that in other clauses of the will, Stewart specifically included language about survivorship, so the fact that it was not included in this clause implied that she intended it not to be there.