Smith v. AshfordAnnotate this Case
Jay Richard Smith (Smith) died testate in 2013, survived by his wife Kathy (appellant), and the couple’s two minor daughters. At the time of his death, Smith was the beneficiary of the Jay Richard Smith Irrevocable Trust established by his parents, the provisions of which granted Smith an unrestricted testamentary power of appointment of the Trust assets remaining after his death. Following Smith’s death, appellant petitioned to probate Smith’s will. Thereafter, the probate court appointed appellant to serve as personal representative of Smith’s estate and appellee, Dana Ashford, to serve as Guardian Ad Litem representing the interests of the minor children. Appellant filed a Petition for Declaratory Judgment and Construction of a Will, seeking construction of the Will by the probate court and a declaration as to whether Smith, under the terms of the Will, exercised the testamentary power of appointment granted him by the Trust. Appellee filed a response on behalf of the children, asserting that the language of the Will was clear and unambiguous, that no construction of the Will was necessary or appropriate, and that no justiciable controversy existed to support the declaratory relief sought. After reviewing the pleadings, motions, briefs and arguments of counsel, the probate court found that the Will was not ambiguous and that the court thus could not look beyond the four corners of the document to ascertain Smith’s intent. Further, the court decided that the plain language of the relevant provisions of the Will clearly and unambiguously showed Smith failed to exercise the testamentary power of appointment granted him by the Trust. Accordingly, the probate court ordered the Trust assets to be distributed pursuant to the terms of the Trust where no power of appointment had been exercised. Appellant appealed. Because the Supreme Court agreed the language of the Will was unambiguous, but disagreed with the probate court’s determination that Smith failed to exercise his testamentary power of appointment therein, it affirmed in part and reversed in part the probate court’s order in this case.