SADIE M. CASTRUCCIO
ESTATE OF PETER A. CASTRUCCIO, et al.
Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County Case No. 02-C-14-184865
Wright, Arthur, Salmon, James P. (Senior Judge, Specially
Assigned), JJ. [*]
mounting an unsuccessful challenge to the validity of her
late husband's will, a widow contended that, as a matter
of law, she was nonetheless entitled to receive virtually all
of his estate under that same will. The Circuit Court for
Anne Arundel County disagreed and declared that the estate
should pass to an alternate residuary beneficiary. The widow
appealed, principally arguing that the circuit court
erroneously relied on evidence other than the literal
language of the will itself. We affirm.
and Procedural History
Peter Castruccio died on February 19, 2013. He was survived
by his wife of 62 years, appellant Sadie Castruccio. John
Greiber, Jr., the Castruccios' lawyer for more than 20
years, was appointed personal representative under the terms
of Dr. Castruccio's will. At Mr. Greiber's request,
the will was admitted to administrative probate on February
Castruccio's will was a six-page document with one
codicil. The will began with two, brief introductory
paragraphs, which were followed by 11 "items," most
of which are not in dispute.
labeled "Cash Bequests," consisted of three general
legacies, to be distributed "prior to any bequest to
[Dr. Castruccio's] beloved wife." The bequests
consisted of $800, 000.00 for appellee Darlene Barclay, Dr.
Castruccio's long-time employee; $100, 000.00 for Adriana
Lanata, Dr. Castruccio's niece, who lives in Italy; and
$100, 000.00 for Ernest Stinchcomb, Jr., the Castruccios'
handyman. In the codicil, Dr. Castruccio increased the amount
of the bequest to Mr. Stinchcomb to $200, 000.00.
was unlabeled and read as follows:
To my loving wife, Sadie, excluding the individual bequest
[sic] made in Item 7, I leave the rest and remainder of my
Estate to her should she one, survive me and two provided she
has made and executed a Will prior to my death.
10, labeled "Residuary Clause," stated:
Should, at the time of my death, my beloved wife not have a
valid Will filed with the Register of Wills in Anne Arundel
County dated prior thereto these [sic], I hereby give, devise
and bequeath all the rest and residue of my Estate and
property, whether imposition, expectancy will remainder
[sic], including all property over which I may have Power of
Appointment to the following individuals share and share
alike per stirpes and not per capita to DARLENE BARCLAY, [at
Ms. Barclay's street address].
March 12, 2013, an attorney for Dr. Castruccio's personal
representative told Mrs. Castruccio that, according to the
will, any bequest to her was contingent upon her having a
"valid Will filed with the Register of Wills in Anne
Arundel County dated prior thereto these [sic]." In the
same communication, the attorney requested that Mrs.
Castruccio supply a copy of any valid will that she had filed
with the Register of Wills of Anne Arundel County before Dr.
Castruccio executed his will. Mrs. Castruccio had not filed
(or deposited) any will with the Register of Wills of Anne
Castruccio responded by filing a caveat petition in the
Orphans' Court of Anne Arundel County, wherein she
challenged the validity of the will. As a defendant, Mrs.
Castruccio named her late husband's Estate. Ms. Barclay
intervened as a co-defendant.
caveat proceeding moved to the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel
County because Mrs. Castruccio petitioned to transmit issues
to that court for trial. See Md. Code (1974, 2011
Repl. Vol.), § 2-105(b) of the Estates and Trusts
discovery, both sides moved for summary judgment in the
caveat proceeding. On September 23, 2014, the circuit court
granted summary judgment in favor of the Estate and Ms.
Barclay and denied Mrs. Castruccio's cross-motion for
summary judgment. Mrs. Castruccio appealed. We affirmed
(see Castruccio v. Estate of Castruccio, 230 Md.App.
118 (2016)), as did the Court of Appeals. See Castruccio
v. Estate of Castruccio, 456 Md. 1 (2017).
on January 16, 2014, while the caveat petition was pending,
Mrs. Castruccio filed this case in the Circuit Court for Anne
Arundel County. In brief, in this case, Mrs. Castruccio
requested a declaration that she was the rightful beneficiary
of her husband's residuary estate under the will.
parties' request, the circuit court stayed this case
pending the resolution of the caveat case, but it lifted the
stay at Mrs. Castruccio's request once it had rendered
its ruling in the caveat case.
the court lifted the stay, Ms. Barclay filed a counterclaim,
in which she requested a declaration that under the will she,
and not Mrs. Castruccio, was entitled to receive the
residuary estate. In addition, Ms. Barclay invoked Item 6 of
the 2010 will, an "in terrorem" or "no
contest" clause, which states: "In the event that
any party, whether they are a beneficiary or not, shall file
any proceeding in an attempt to void any and all provisions
of this instrument, in that event, such party shall receive
no benefits whatsoever from my Estate, in the event that such
proceedings are unsuccessful." Ms. Barclay requested a
declaration that, because Mrs. Castruccio had challenged the
2010 will in the caveat proceedings, she could take nothing
under that will.
parties presented conflicting interpretations of Dr.
Castruccio's will. The conflict centered on whether Item
10 should or should not be read in conjunction with Item 8.
to the Estate and Ms. Barclay, Items 8 and 10 should be read
together to impose three conditions precedent to Mrs.
Castruccio's right to recover under the will as a
residuary beneficiary: (1) she had to survive her husband (as
stated in Item 8), (2) she had to have made a will (as also
stated in item 8), and (3) she had to file a valid will with
the Register of Wills for Anne Arundel County before her
husband's death (as stated in Item 10). Because it was
undisputed that Mrs. Castruccio had not filed (or deposited)
a will with the Register of Wills for Anne Arundel County
before her husband's death, the Estate and Ms. Barclay
argued that Mrs. Castruccio had not satisfied the third
condition and, hence, could recover nothing. In that event,
they said, Ms. Barclay would receive the balance of the
estate under Item 10.
Castruccio argued that Items 8 and 10 addressed different
scenarios and that they should not be read together. In Mrs.
Castruccio's view, Item 8 addressed what should happen if
she survived her husband, while Item 10 addressed what should
happen if she did not. According to Mrs. Castruccio, under
Item 8, she would receive her husband's entire estate
(minus the $1.1 million in specific bequests in Item 7 and
the codicil) if she survived him and had made and executed a
will before his death. On the other hand, she said, if she
did not survive her husband, Item 10 dictated that his estate
(minus the specific bequests) would go to the beneficiaries
whom she had named in her will, provided that her
will was valid and that it had been filed with the Register
of Wills for Anne Arundel County in a probate proceeding. In
Mrs. Castruccio's interpretation, if she predeceased her
husband and did not leave a will, his estate (minus the
specific bequests) would go to Ms. Barclay.
October 15, 2015, the Estate moved for summary judgment on
all of the claims alleged in Mrs. Castruccio's complaint.
The Estate specifically sought an order declaring that,
because Mrs. Castruccio did not file a valid will with the
Register of Wills at any time before Dr. Castruccio's
death, she did not meet the requirements of Item 8 and Item
10 of the will. The Estate also sought a declaration that
under Item 6 Mrs. Castruccio was precluded from receiving any
benefit because of her attempt to invalidate the will.
same day, Ms. Barclay moved for summary judgment on her
counterclaim for declaratory relief. On the following day,
Mrs. Castruccio filed a cross-motion for summary judgment,
claiming that she was the residuary beneficiary under the
2010 will and requesting a declaration to that effect.
November 10, 2015, the circuit court held a hearing on the
summary judgment motions, but it waited to rule while Mrs.
Castruccio's appeal in the caveat case was pending in
this Court. After this Court affirmed the circuit court's
decision in the caveat case in 2016, the court requested
re-argument in this case.
connection with a hearing on November 7, 2016, all parties
submitted supplemental exhibits and briefing. Much of the
debate concerned the extent to which the court could consider
information other than the language of the 2010 will itself.
Most notably, that information included evidence of Dr.
Castruccio's antipathy toward Mrs. Castruccio's
nephews, his desire that the nephews receive none of his
assets, and his unsuccessful attempts to involve his wife in
joint estate-planning activities.
January 6, 2017, the circuit court ruled that the
interpretation advanced by the Estate and Ms. Barclay was
correct. The court issued a declaratory judgment in which it
based its decision both on the language of the will itself
and on the circumstances surrounding Dr. Castruccio's
execution of the will.
in paragraph 4 of its declaratory judgment, the court wrote:
That this Court declares that when construed by their plain
and ordinary meaning [sic] and upon reading together Items 8
and 10 of the Will, Plaintiff Sadie M. Castruccio may only
take as a residuary beneficiary under the Will if she
satisfied three requirements prior to Peter A.
Castruccio's death on February 19, 2013: (a) that she
survived Peter A. Castruccio; (b) that she made and executed
a will; and (c) that Plaintiff Sadie M. Castruccio filed her
valid will with the Register of Wills for Anne Arundel
addition, in paragraph 5 of its declaratory judgment, the
That in light of undisputed competent evidence of the
background to the execution of the Will by Peter A.
Castruccio as well as the relevant events that transpired
after its execution, this Court declares that Peter A.
Castruccio expressed in Items 8 and 10 of the Will that
Plaintiff Sadie M. Castruccio may only take as a residuary
beneficiary under the will if she satisfied three
requirements prior to his death on February 19, 2013: (a)
that she survived Peter A. Castruccio; (b) that she made and
executed a will; and (c) that Plaintiff Sadie M. Castruccio
filed her valid will with the Register of Wills for Anne
Mrs. Castruccio had not filed a will with the Register of
Wills for Anne Arundel County before her husband's death,
the circuit court concluded that she had no right to recover
under the will. Instead, the court concluded that Ms. Barclay
was the sole residuary beneficiary.
addition to addressing the interpretation of Items 8 and 10,
the court considered the contention that, under the "in
terrorem" or "no contest" clause in Item 6,
Mrs. Castruccio had no right to recover under the will
because she had unsuccessfully challenged its validity in the
caveat case. The court rejected that contention, because it
believed that Mrs. Castruccio had had probable cause to
commence the caveat case.
court issued a memorandum and order in accordance with its
decision. In that order, the court denied Mrs.
Castruccio's motion for summary judgment; granted the
Estate's motion for summary judgment; granted Ms.
Barclay's motion for summary judgment on the
interpretation of Items 8 and 10; but denied Ms.
Barclay's motion for summary judgment as to the effect of
Castruccio noted a timely appeal.
Castruccio presents two questions, which we quote:
1. Did the trial court err by basing its construction of the
will in whole or in part on extrinsic evidence as to what
[Dr. Castruccio] intended the words of his will to mean,
instead of determining his intent solely from words he
actually used in the four corners of the will?
2. Did the trial court err by denying [Mrs. Castruccio's]
motion for summary judgment that pursuant to Item 8 of the
Will, she is the beneficiary of [Dr. Castruccio's]
answer "no" to both questions. Hence, we affirm.
sides agree that this was a proper case for summary judgment.
Both sides also agree that there is no genuine dispute as to
any material fact. They disagree, however, about which of
them was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. "The
standard of review for a declaratory judgment entered as a
result of the grant of a motion for summary judgment is
'whether that declaration was correct as a matter of
law.'" Catalyst Health Solutions, Inc. v.
Magill, 414 Md. 457, 471 (2010) (quoting Olde
Severna Park Improvement Ass'n, Inc. v. Gunby, 402
Md. 317, 329 (2007)).
The General Rules of Will Construction
general principles for construing a will are well
established. "[T]he intention of the testator is the
polar star, and must prevail, if consistent with the rules of
law[.]" Walters v. Walters, 3 H. & J. 201,
205 (1811). "When construing a will, the 'paramount
concern of the court is to ascertain and effectuate the
testator's expressed intent.'" Pfeufer v.
Cyphers, 397 Md. 643, 649 (2007) (quoting Emmert v.
Hearn, 309 Md. 19, 23 (1987)); accord Friedman v.
Hannan, 412 Md. 328, 339 (2010). "[T]he search is
not for the testator's 'presumed [intention] but for
his [or her] expressed intention.'"
Pfeufer v. Cyphers, 397 Md. at 649 (quoting
LeRoy v. Kirk, 262 Md. 276, 279 (1971)).
"Generally, that intent is 'gathered from the four
corners of the will, '" id. (quoting
Reedy v. Barber, 253 Md. 141, 148 (1969)),
"with the words of the will given their 'plain
meaning and import.'" Id. (quoting
Emmert v. Hearn, 309 Md. at 23); accord Friedman
v. Hannan, 412 Md. at 339-40. "'Th[e] expressed
intention of a testator must be gathered from the language of
the entire will, ...