106 S.W. 1035 (Mo. 1907), Holton v. Cochran

Citation:106 S.W. 1035, 208 Mo. 314
Opinion Judge:WOODSON, J.
Party Name:B. R. E. HOLTON et al. v. LILLIAN M. COCHRAN, Appellant
Attorney:Geo. D. Reynolds and George V. Reynolds for appellant. Virgil Rule for respondents.
Case Date:December 24, 1907
Court:Supreme Court of Missouri
 
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Page 1035

106 S.W. 1035 (Mo. 1907)

208 Mo. 314

B. R. E. HOLTON et al.

v.

LILLIAN M. COCHRAN, Appellant

Supreme Court of Missouri, First Division

December 24, 1907

Appeal from St. Louis City Circuit Court. -- Hon. John A. Blevins, Judge.

Affirmed.

Geo. D. Reynolds and George V. Reynolds for appellant.

(1) The prima-facie case, made out by appellant, was never overthrown by any substantial evidence introduced or offered by the respondents. This court has established as the law of this State, by an unbroken and long line of decisions, that while "it will not weigh conflicting evidence to determine whether the jury found against the weight of the evidence . . . it will examine the record of the evidence in a will case, to see if there is any substantial evidence to support the verdict." Sayre v. Trustees Princeton University, 192 Mo. 95; Archambault v. Blanchard, 198 Mo. 384; Hill v. Boyd, 97 S.W. 920. An examination of the testimony introduced by respondents, even without considering that offered by appellant in rebuttal, but having in mind the testimony in chief of appellant, will show that there was no substantial evidence of mental incapacity introduced to overthrow the will; and an examination of all the testimony for appellant will conclusively demonstrate that there was no substantial evidence whatever of mental unsoundness, insane delusion, or undue influence, and the trial court should have given the instructions asked by appellant for a verdict in her favor, and it was error not to have done so. Riggin v. Westminster College, 160 Mo. 570; Crowson v. Crowson, 172 Mo. 691; Sayre v. Trustees of Princeton University, 192 Mo. 95; Brinkman v. Rueggesieck, 71 Mo. 553; Hughes v. Rader, 183 Mo. 703. (2) There is no evidence whatever in this case of any insane delusion such as the courts hold must be present to invalidate a will. The definitions by the courts of this State and other States as to insane delusions are set out in the case of Knapp v. St. Louis Trust Company, 98 S.W. 78 and 79. Am. Bib. Soc. v. Price, 115 Ill. 623; Dunham's Appeal, 27 Conn. 192; In re Smith, 52 Wis. 573. The insane delusions or hallucinations must have reference to person or things -- not to opinion or faith. Bonard's Will, 16 Abb. (N. S.) 128. A belief based on evidence, however slight, is not delusion. Stackhouse v. Horton, 15 N.J.Eq. 202; Clapp v. Fullerton, 34 N.Y. 190; Claflin's Will Case, 32 Wis. 557. An error in fact, or a prejudice or suspicion, is not an insane delusion. Boardman v. Woodman, 47 N.H. 120; Greenwood's Case, 13 Vesey, Jr. 89. Where the occasion for anger or distrust is real, and not a figment of the imagination, if the resentment or distrust is not founded wholly on delusion, a testator may, if he chooses, disinherit those who have natural claims upon his bounty. In such case there is no ground for setting aside the will, as it cannot be said to be the offspring of delusion. Hollinger v. Syms, 37 N.J.Eq. 230; Dale v. Dale, 36 N.J.Eq. 282; Duffield v. Morris' Executors, 2 Harrington (Del.) 375; In re Claflin's Will, 32 Wis. 565; Trumbull v. Gibbons, 22 N. J. L. 157; Wintermuth v. Wilson, 28 N.J.Eq. 438. (3) The fact that the testator disinherited two of his children and cut down a former bequest to a daughter one-half, is no evidence of insane delusion. The proof is clear of the estrangement of the father and children. Meier v. Buchter, 197 Mo. 86. (4) The fact that the will in contest was a mere copy with but few comparatively insignificant changes, of a previous one, executed the year before, shows ample time for deliberation on the part of the testator and that the will was not the result of passion, delusion or sudden emotion, but was the deliberate act of the testator. Harris v. Hayes, 53 Mo. 95; Ranken v. Ranken, 61 Mo. 295; Thompson v. Ish, 99 Mo. 171. (5) The admission of the evidence of the actions of Edward K. Holton at the time of the death of his wife and father-in-law, which events occurred in 1891, had no tendency to establish the condition of the testator's mind at the date of making his will in 1902. They were too remote to tend to establish insanity in 1902. Von de Veld v. Judy, 143 Mo. 348.

Virgil Rule for respondents.

(1) Under the statute of wills a person must be of "sound mind" before he can make a valid will. R. S. 1899, sec. 4602. (a) In all will cases, contested on the ground of unsound mind, the sole question is, did the testator possess that reasoning power and understanding which springs from a "sound mind?" Archambault v. Blanchard, 198 Mo. 384; Crossan v. Crossan, 169 Mo. 639. (b) And in order that the testator may comprehend and understand the nature and extent of his property, and in order that he may comprehend and understand who reasonably come within the range of his bounty, and in order that he may comprehend and understand to whom he desires to and is giving his property, "no disorder of mind shall poison his affections, pervert his sense of right, or prevent the exercise of his natural faculties; no insane delusion shall influence his will in disposing of his property and bring about a disposal of it, which, if his mind had been sound, would not have been made." Banks v. Goodfellow, L. R. 5 Q. B. 565. Therefore, if Capt. Holton, from the time of turning over to his son, Birch, and his daughter, Alice, the stocks of the Ames Company, belonging to them, down to and including the time of the execution of the paper offered as his will, labored under an insane delusion that said son and daughter had exacted of him and that he had turned over to them a greater amount of said stock than they were lawfully entitled to demand and receive from him, as their trustee, and such delusion overcame and controlled his will and judgment in the execution of the paper offered as his will, he was lacking in a mental requisite necessary to the making of a valid will, within the definition above set forth. Am. Bible Soc. v. Price, 115 Ill. 632; Knapp v. St. L. Trust Co., 98 S.W. 78; Lancaster v. Lancaster, 87 S.W. 1137; Benoist v. Murrin, 58 Mo. 319; Dorman's Will, 5 Dem. 112; Swygart v. Willard, 76 N.E. 762; Stanton v. Wetherwax, 16 Barb. 262; Shaw's Will, 2 Redf. 108; Calhoun v. Jones, 2 Redf. 34; Merrill v. Rolston, 5 Redf. 221; Jenkins' Will, 80 N.Y.S. 664; Thomas v. Carter, 170 Pa. St. 272; Greenwood's Case, 3 Curtis Ecc. 1; Orchardson v. Cofield, 171 Ill. 35; Bordman v. Woodman, 47 N.H. 136; Duffield v. Morris' Exrs., 2 Harrington 379; Nicewander v. Nicewander, 151 Ill. 164; Layer v. Layer, 62 S.W. 18. (2) (a) A delusion which leads a father to the belief that his children, or those who would naturally come within the range of his bounty, entertained towards him hostile feelings and sought to make his life unhappy, which induced him to regard them as unworthy of his affection and bounty, avoids a will or a gift made under such a delusion. Riggs v. Am. Home Soc., 35 Hun 656, 42 Hun 658; Riggs v. Am. Tract Soc., 95 N.Y. 511; Am. Seaman's Soc., 33 N.Y. 619; Ballantine v. Proudfoot, 62 Wis. 216. (b) Delusion is the true test of the presence or absence of insanity. Daw v. Clark, 3 Addams, Ec. T. 79; Burkhead v. Gladish, 123 Ind. 338; Stanton v. Wetherwax, 16 Barb. 259; Re Forman, 54 Barb. 274; Wheeler v. Alderson, 3 Hagg. Ecc. 574; Boughton v. Knight, L. R. 3 Prob. Div. 64. (c) If, therefore, Capt. Holton had any delusion which caused him to make a will which he would not have made but for the delusion, it was proper for the court to instruct as to such delusion. The ultimate fact of mental capacity is all that is proper in the pleading. Delusion and insanity, or unsound mind as it is termed under Statute of Wills, are regarded as almost, if not entirely, convertible terms. Am. Bible Soc. v. Price, 115 Ill. 655; Boughton v. Knight, L. R. 3 Prob. Div. 64; Smith v. Tebbitt, L. R. 1 Prob. Div. 401. (d) An insane delusion is a belief in things so improbable under the surrounding circumstances that no person of "sound mind" would give them credit. Benoist v. Murrin, 58 Mo. 307; Riggs v. Am. Home Soc., 35 Hun 656. (e) A belief in something which no sane person would believe in, however, is unequivocal evidence of insanity, though there might be a shadow of evidence that the fact existed. Riggs v. Am. Home Soc., 35 Hun 656. (f) It is not claimed that mere prejudice or suspicion amounts to insane delusion, but the question whether a prejudice on the part of a testator against the natural objects of his bounty amounts to an insane delusion which would affect the validity of his will is one of fact, depending upon whether or not, under all the circumstances, it was such as might have resided in a sound mind, and is for the jury. Greenwood's Case, 3 Curt. Ecc. 337. (g) A fixed idea or belief that one has lost every friend is an incipient form of depressive delusion common to several insanities. 1 Clevenger's Med. Jur., 51.

OPINION

Page 1036

[208 Mo. 322] WOODSON, J.

This suit originated in the circuit court of the city of St. Louis, and was instituted to contest the validity of an instrument in writing, purporting to be the last will and testament of Edward K. Holton, deceased, on the grounds: First, that the testator was not of sound mind and disposing memory, and was, for that reason, incapable of making a valid will; second, that the instrument was caused to be executed by the undue and improper influence of his wife, Lillian M. Holton (now Cochran).

[208 Mo. 323] Said instrument is in words and figures as follows:

"I, Edward K. Holton, of the city of St. Louis, State of Missouri, being of sound and disposing mind and memory, do hereby make, publish and declare this to be my last will and testament, hereby revoking all wills by me heretofore made.

"First, I give and bequeath to my brothers, Frank G. Holton and William J. Holton, each the sum of...

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