2.3 Even with the Plain Meaning Rule Under the Common Law, There were Exceptions or “Workarounds” Around the Rule
The plain meaning rule is not, however, absolute. In Maryland there are at least two formal exceptions involving will interpretation that permit extrinsic evidence despite the plain meaning rule: (1) the latent ambiguity exception, and (2) evidence of the facts and circumstances of the settlor’s situation at the time of trust creation. Additionally, there are cases permitting extrinsic evidence to rebut the presumption that a document that complies with all the testamentary formality rules does not necessarily mean that the decedent had read and understood the will thus permitting the document to be set aside. Finally, there are evidentiary cases involving charitable bequests that, if having general application which they seem to have, would foretell a more modern, permissive approach to the admissibility of extrinsic evidence. The plain meaning rule has been characterized as an historic relic with limited, recognized utility by several courts:
Because of a growing distrust and dissatisfaction with the application of hidebound interpretive rules to testamentary documents, the law of will interpretation has gradually evolved from a stiff and often artificial formalism to an almost organic approach to interpretation that extols the quest for the testator’s intention. Courts today, seeking to temper technical rigidity, contemplate a reduced role for the application of rules of construction in the wills context, with the trend toward admitting extrinsic evidence to cure a multiplicity of ills in wills. In the course of this evolution, the use of will interpretation manuals has fallen from favor and the rules governing the admission of extrinsic evidence have been increasingly relaxed and refined.