ANNAPOLIS – About the only thing Margaret Binco’s four wills had in common was that none listed her brother as a beneficiary.
But the Maryland Court of Appeals on Wednesday ruled that none of her wills was valid, making her closest living relative – – her brother — the sole heir of her $253,418 estate.
“I think she accomplished what she really wanted,” said the brother, Henry J. Kroll, of Forest Hill.
Despite court testimony that his sister disliked him, Kroll characterized their relationship as loving and devoid of arguments. He said that Binco, who died in 1994 at age 73, willed her estate to benefactors other than him only to “assuage them.”
Binco wrote four wills. The courts agreed that a 1980 version was invalid because it appeared to have been altered. A 1985 will was legitimate, but she wrote “void — new will drawn up 6-28-90” on the back of it.
That 1990 will and a 1994 revision were written out in longhand by Binco, complete with margin notes, arrows and scratched-out words.
But the courts could not accept the last two versions because they lacked the necessary witness signatures.
Since no witnesses are needed to void a will, however, her “void” instruction on the 1985 document stood.
That left Binco with three bad wills and one good one that she later rejected. But the Court of Appeals declined to step in Wednesday and resurrect the will Binco had voided.
That decision effectively meant that Binco died intestate, or without a will. Under the law, the estates of people who die intestate revert to their closest relative.
The decision disappointed Brice Dowell, who had asked the court to recognize the 1985 document despite the void instruction.
“It was as though she thought she was turning out one light bulb and turning on another one,” said Dowell, an attorney for Binco’s estate. “I think the preponderance of the evidence shows that she did not want (Kroll) to have anything.”
A Baltimore County Circuit Court judge agreed with Dowell that the 1985 will should stand. But the Court of Appeals said that would be wrong, noting that there was barely any similarity between her voided 1985 will and her invalid 1990 will.
Judge Alan Wilner, who wrote the opinion, noted that only one beneficiary from 1985 — Baltimore’s First Church of God — was included in the 1990 revision.
To disregard Binco’s “void” instruction on the 1985 will, Wilner wrote, would be to do “precisely to do what she clearly did not want done — to leave her estate to people she had intended to disinherit.”
Kroll’s attorney, Al Clasing, said the ruling made the best of a bad situation.
“I don’t think the courts should get into divining people’s intentions,” he said.
“We were left with two pretty bad choices,” Clasing said. “We could use what she wrote in 1985, which we knew she didn’t want, or we could say she died without a will — and she clearly didn’t want that either.”