Patch v. White,
117 U.S. 210 (1886)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Patch v. White, 117 U.S. 210 (1886)

Patch v. White

Argued November 12, 1885

Reargued January 13-14, 1886

Decided March 1, 1886

117 U.S. 210


A latent ambiguity in a will, which may be removed by extrinsic evidence, may arise (1) either when it names a person as the object of a gift, or a thing as the subject of it, and there are two persons or things that answer such name or description, or (2) when the will contains a misdescription of the object or subject, as where there is no such person or thing in existence, or if in existence, the person is not the one intended, or the thing does not belong to the testator.

When a careful study of the testator's language, applied to the circumstances by which he was surrounded, discloses an inadvertency or mistake in a description of persons or things in a will, which can be corrected without

Page 117 U. S. 211

adding to the testator's language and thus making a different will from that left by him, the correction should be made.

A made a will in which, after saying, "and touching [my] worldly estate. . . . I give, devise and dispose of the same in the following manner," he devised certain specific lots with the buildings thereon, respectively, to each of his near relations, and, amongst others, to his brother H a lot described as "lot numbered 6 in square 403, together with the improvements thereon erected." He then devised to his infant son as follows: "the balance of my real estate, believed to be and to consist in lots numbered six, eight and nine &c.," describing a number of lots, but not describing lot No. 3, in square 406, hereafter mentioned:


(1) That the testator intended to dispose of all his real estate, and thought he had done so; (2) that in the devise to H, he believed he was giving him one of his own lots; (3) that evidence might properly be received to show that the testator did not, and never did, own lot No. 6, in square 403, which had no improvements thereon; but did own lot No. 3, in square 406, which had a house thereon, occupied by his tenants, and that this raised a latent ambiguity, and that this evidence, taken in connection with the context of the will, was sufficient to show that there was an error in the description, and that the lot really devised was lot No. 3, in square 406.

Ejectment. The question at issue was the construction of a will, the principal parts of which are set forth in the opinion of the Court. The case was first argued November 12, 1885. The judgment below was affirmed by a divided Court November 26, 1885. On the 14th December, this judgment was set aside and a reargument was ordered, which was made January 13, 14, 1886, by the same counsel.

Page 117 U. S. 212

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