What happens when a testatrix’s will has the sort of ambiguity implicating one of the greatest sports rivalries in the US? Litigation! Litigation involving USC, the UC Regents, and the heirs of Cora L. Black. Ms. Black executed the following holographic will:
“Los Gatos, California May 2nd 1957
“I, Cora L. Black, Being of sound and disposing mind and Memory make this My last Will and Testament. I cancel all Other Wills made by me.
“To The University of Southern California known as The U.C.L.A. My entire Estate for Educational purposes.
“My Estate consists of Stocks bonds
“The house in which I live is to be sold and the money shall be part of The Estate. All monthly bills shall be paid by The Bank of California Who are to administar [sic] This Estate.
“If any claims are made by relatives They are to be given one dollar.
“Signed by me This Second day of May 1957.
CORA L. BLACK”
The trial court, in a dramatic re-reading of Black’s will held that there was no latent ambiguity in this devise. Rather, the lower court eliminated one of the beneficiaries, USC, and interpreted “The University of Southern California” to mean “the university in Southern California.” Further, the court believed the capitalization of the word “University” was of no significance because people sometimes capitalize the word and on other occasions they do not. Ultimately, the court awarded the entirety of Black’s estate to UCLA, leaving USC and the surviving heirs out in the cold.
As a rule in the law of Wills, a very central rule, a court is not at liberty to read the language of a will with anything other than its plain, ordinary meaning. Accordingly, the appellate court reversed, sending the case back to the trial court to admit parol evidence in order to determine what exactly was meant by the phrase “To The University of Southern California known as The U.C.L.A.”