The debate on this appeal is focused upon this clause “and after his decease to be inherited by nearest heir in the Wheeler family,” which appears in the will of Alsey B. Wheeler.
*381Plaintiff, appellee, contends that the words “nearest heir in the Wheeler family,” as used in the will, mean the “nearest heir in the Joseph Gardner Wheeler family,” that is, his heirs. And defendants concede that if this he the meaning, plaintiff has a fee simple title under the rule in Shelley’s case. This is the construction put upon the clause on the hearing below.
On the other hand, defendants contend that the words “nearest heir in the Wheeler family” mean the “nearest heir in the Alsey B. Wheeler family,” that is, the nearest heir of the testator,—and that, hence, the life estate given to Joseph G. Wheeler was not enlarged into a fee simple.
“The cardinal principle in the interpretation of wills is to discover the intent of the testator looking at the instrument from its four corners, and to give effect to such intent, unless contrary to some rule of law or at variance with public policy.” Heyer v. Bulluck, 210 N. C., 321, 186 S. E., 356; Williams v. Rand, 223 N. C., 734, 28 S. E. (2d), 247. “The object is to arrive at, if possible, the intention and meaning of the testator as expressed in the language used by him.” Patterson v. McCormick, 181 N. C., 311, 107 S. E., 12.
Applying these principles to the case in hand, and considering the will of Alsey B. Wheeler, from its four corners, the intention of the testator seems clear from the language he used. It is significant that, first, he gives to his wife “all the real estate ... to have and to hold her lifetime” ; then “after the decease” of himself and of his wife, the language is “we bequeath to our nephew, Joseph Gardner Wheeler, our tract of land . . . which he is to have and to hold during his lifetime”; and, then, “after his decease to be inherited by nearest heir in the Wheeler family to have and to hold as long as the law will allow.” In other words, it is apparent that the testator had in mind three objects of his bounty in this order, first, his wife, during her lifetime; second, his nephew, during his lifetime; and, third, his own blood kin in general. That is, after his wife had enjoyed his tract of land for life, and then after his nephew had enjoyed it for life, it should go to the nearest kin in his, the testator’s, family.
And it is noted that while in the agreed statement of facts it is stated that “all of the persons interested in the controversy presented hereby, namely, the soundness of the plaintiff’s title, are parties to this action, are of full age and are properly before the court,” there are expressions in the briefs of counsel for appellants and for appellee, respectively, that tend to show that testator had no children, but had relatives,— appellant saying “it is agreed that Alsey B. Wheeler left heirs who could inherit this land in question.”
In the light of the above holding, the judgment below is