• July 5, 2022

On first impression, the Minnesota Court of Appeals might seem to have been on thin ice when, in a recent case in a dispute over a will, it affirmed a district court ruling that a will’s requirement that an option to close on a purchase of real estate “within 180 days of my death” was ambiguous.

After all, what is ambiguous there? Death? 180 days?

Don’t spend too much time thinking about it. There is nothing ambiguous about the specific words. BUT…

The decedent, Mr. Vernie Carl Payne, seems to have clearly wanted his son Tobin to have the option to buy the farmland at issue and Mr. Tobin Payne was only unable to meet the deadline set out in his father’s will due to COVID and the challenges of getting into court to administer the estate.

[E]ven where the language of the will appears clear, an ambiguity may occur when surrounding circumstances reveal more than one construction.”

This is an excellent example of judges exercising judgment to reach the right result and not being wed to literal meaning when enforcing the literal meaning would result in a bad and unjust result (the negation of Mr. Tobin Payne’s father’s intent).