98 S.W. 70 (Mo. 1906), Knapp v. St. Louis Trust Company

Citation:98 S.W. 70, 199 Mo. 640
Opinion Judge:GANTT, J.
Party Name:ANNA KNAPP, Appellant, v. ST. LOUIS TRUST COMPANY et al
Attorney:J. M. Blayney, Jr., for appellant. Judson & Green and John H. Overall for respondents.
Judge Panel:GANTT, J. Burgess, P. J., and Fox, J., concur. Burgess, P. J., and Fox, J., concur.
Case Date:December 04, 1906
Court:Supreme Court of Missouri
 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 70

98 S.W. 70 (Mo. 1906)

199 Mo. 640

ANNA KNAPP, Appellant,

v.

ST. LOUIS TRUST COMPANY et al

Supreme Court of Missouri, Division Two

December 4, 1906

Appeal from St. Louis City Circuit Court. -- Hon. H. D. Wood, Judge.

Reversed and remanded.

J. M. Blayney, Jr., for appellant.

(1) Question presented for decision: Crossan v. Crossan, 169 Mo. 637; Garland v. Smith, 127 Mo. 581. (2) Opinions of witnesses as to the sanity of testatrix: Brooke v. Townshend, 7 Gill. 10; Dunham's Appeal, 27 Conn. 192. (3) General insanity: 1 Wharton and Stille, Medical Jurisprudence (1905), secs. 67, 975, 976, 985, 992; Redfield on Wills, sec. 12, 6; sec. 12, 3; Schouler on Wills, p. 103; Underhill on Wills, p. 117, sec. 92; Rood on Wills, sec. 119; Moore v. McNulty, 164 Mo. 117; Kischman v. Scott, 166 Mo. 214; Appleby v. Brook, 76 Mo. 314; Aylward v. Briggs, 145 Mo. 609; Petefish v. Becker, 176 Ill. 448; Petrie v. Petrie, 6 N.Y.S. 831. (4) Insane delusion is evidence of general insanity. 1 Wharton and Stille, Medical Jurisprudence, p. 101; Schouler on Wills, sec. 190, p. 153; 1 Jarman on Wills, p. 102, note; 1 Redfield on Wills, sec. 11; Page on Wills, sec. 108. (5) Insane delusions need not be specifically pleaded: Society v. Price, 115 Ill. 635; Burkhardt v. Gladish, 123 Ind. 327. (6) The will in question is the direct product of an insane delusion: 1 Redfield on Wills, pp. 79, 87; Rood on Wills, sec. 132, p. 68; 1 Wharton and Stille, Med. Jur., pp. 82, 85; Benoist v. Murrin, 58 Mo. 307; Garland v. Smith, 127 Mo. 567; Miller v. White, 5 Redf. 320; Rivard v. Rivard, 109 Mich. 98; Thomas v. Carter, 170 Pa. St. 283; Robinson v. Adams, 62 Me. 369; Lucas v. Parson, 24 Ga. 640; Society v. Hopper, 33 N.Y. 619; In re Jenkins Will, 80 N.Y.S. 634; Society v. Price, 115 Ill. 623; In re Segur's Will, 71 Vt. 224. (7) Proponents' evidence; 1 Jarman on Wills, p. 96 note; 1 Redfield on Wills (2 Ed.), p. 106; 1 Wharton & Stille, Med. Jur. (1905), p. 444, n. (8) Errors of trial court in excluding evidence: Highman v. Ridgway, 10 East 109; Taylor v. Witham, 3 Ch. Div. 605; Greenleaf, Evidence (16 Ed.), sec. 152; Percival v. Uausen, 7 Exch. 1; 16 Ency. Law and Procedure, p. 1218; 4 Wigmore, Evid., pp. 1822, 1828.

Judson & Green and John H. Overall for respondents.

(1) The test of capacity to make a will is that the testatrix have sufficient mental capacity to understand the nature and character of her property, the natural objects of her bounty, and the disposition she is making of her estate by the will. The law does not require the high degree of intelligence to make a will that is necessary in some other matters. Hamon v. Hamon, 180 Mo. 685; Southworth v. Southworth, 173 Mo. 59; Story v. Story, 188 Mo. 110; Hughes v. Rader, 183 Mo. 630; Crossan v. Crossan, 169 Mo. 631; Crowson v. Crowson, 172 Mo. 691; Sehr v. Lindemann, 153 Mo. 288; Cash v. Lust, 142 Mo. 630; Riley v. Sherwood, 144 Mo. 355; Riggin v. Trustees of Westminster College, 160 Mo. 570; Wood v. Carpenter, 166 Mo. 465. (2) Where there is no substantial evidence that the testatrix does not possess mental capacity to make a valid will, it is the duty of the court to so declare as a matter of law. Sayre v. Trustees of Princeton University, 90 S.W. 787; Catholic University v. O'Brien, 181 Mo. 68; Hamon v. Hamon, 180 Mo. 685; Sehr v. Lindemann, 153 Mo. 288; Fulbright v. Perry County, 145 Mo. 432; Schierbaum v. Schemme, 157 Mo. 1; Martin v. Bowdern, 158 Mo. 379. (3) The mere fact of the feebleness incident to old age imparts no information as to the want of capacity to make a valid will. There was no evidence in this case from which senile dementia could possibly be inferred. Riley v. Sherwood, 144 Mo. 354; Hamon v. Hamon, 180 Mo. 685; McFadin v. Catron, 138 Mo. 197; Watson v. Watson, 2 B. Mon. 74; Von Alst v. Hunter, 5 Johns. Ch. 148. (4) A person may possess an insane delusion and still be perfectly competent to make a will, provided the disposing party understands the nature and extent of her property and the objects of her bounty. Page on Wills, sec. 107; Thomas v. Carter, 170 Pa. St. 272; In re Cline's Will, 24 Ore. 175; In re Redfield's Estate, 116 Cal. 637. (5) The question of mental capacity may also depend on the extent of the testatrix's property and the manner of its disposition. Trist v. Newell, 62 Ill. 196. (6) The testimony of witnesses that the testatrix at the time of making the will was not capable of transacting business matters, or was otherwise incapacitated, being mere opinions of non-experts, do not tend to show any incapacity. Crowson v. Crowson, 172 Mo. 691; Southworth v. Southworth, 173 Mo. 59; Sehr v. Lindemann, 153 Mo. 276. (7) It is not necessary that the testatrix comprehend the provisions of her will in their legal form. Trist v. Newell, 62 Ill. 196; Kischman v. Scott, 166 Mo. 214. (8) The testimony of testamentary capacity was conclusive, and the court properly directed a verdict.

GANTT, J. Burgess, P. J., and Fox, J., concur.

OPINION

Page 71

[199 Mo. 644] GANTT, J.

This is an action to contest the validity of the will of Mrs. Margaret Gaffey. The grounds of contest were and are that the testatrix at the time of executing the alleged will was not of sound and disposing mind and memory and was under undue influence. On this appeal the contestant admits that no evidence was introduced in the circuit court tending to prove undue influence, and the sole contention before us is that the circuit court erred in giving a peremptory instruction to the jury to find the paper writing propounded to be the last will and testament of Mrs. Gaffey. The will in contest contains the following provisions:

1. Payment of debts. Direction for cremation of body and burial of ashes in Bellefontaine Cemetery in grave of testatrix's deceased sister.

2. $ 100 to Lester Thacker Knapp.

[199 Mo. 645] 3. $ 100 to Georgia Knapp.

4. I have already given to my daughter, Anna, personal and real estate to the amount of twenty thousand dollars, and I make no further provision for her, except the income from the trust estate referred to in the next paragraph.

5. All the rest and residue of her property to St. Louis Trust Company, "with full power in said trustee to invest, sell and re-invest any part of said estate, including the power to sell the real estate and pass a full legal title thereto whenever, in the judgment of said trustee, it shall be necessary or proper to do so. After paying the necessary expenses for the care, protection and management of said estate, the said trustee shall pay the entire revenue, derived therefrom, to my said daughter Anna, in quarterly or semi-annual installments, during her natural life." Upon the death of said daughter, then the balance of said trust estate to go:

a. Three hundred dollars to the then acting Episcopal Bishop of Missouri, for diocesan missions.

b. Two hundred dollars to St. Luke's Hospital (Episcopal).

c. "To my nephew, Edward St. John, now residing in New York, if living, the sum of five hundred dollars." If not living, to his daughter, Edna; if said daughter, Edna, be not living, then to Lester Thacker Knapp, and his lawful heirs.

d. Five hundred dollars to "my cousin, George W. Groves, of the city of St. Louis, if living," if not living, said sum to be paid to Georgia Knapp.

e. After making the above payments, the residue of said trust estate to be distributed as follows: Two-twelfths to testatrix's grandson Ralph Hammond Knapp; five-twelfths to testatrix's granddaughter, Georgia Knapp; and five-twelfths to testatrix's grandson, Lester Thacker Knapp.

f. St. Louis Trust Company is named executor.

[199 Mo. 646] The will was signed by Mrs. Gaffey and witnessed by F. V. Dubrouillet and B. W. McIlvaine.

The only answer filed on the part of any of the defendants was by the St. Louis Trust Company, which admitted the death of Mrs. Gaffey, the probate of the will, the fact that the Trust Company was named trustee and executor, and that the plaintiff, Anna Knapp, was one of the beneficiaries under the will, but denied all other allegations of the petition. The cause was tried in the circuit court of the city of St. Louis on the 17th of November, 1903, and at the close of all of the evidence in the case, the court of its own motion directed the jury to find that the said paper writing was the last will of Mrs. Margaret Gaffey. To that instruction the plaintiff duly excepted. Within due time a motion for new trial was filed by the plaintiff, which was overruled, and the plaintiff by proper steps perfected her appeal to this court. As the only question presented on this appeal is whether the plaintiff introduced substantial evidence tending to prove that at the time of the execution of said will, Mrs. Gaffey was not of sound and disposing mind and memory, it is essential to make a summary of the testimony introduced on the trial on the part of the proponents, and contestants.

Mr. F. V. Dubrouillet testified that he was trust officer of the St. Louis Trust Company; was such in November, 1898, at the time of attesting the will of Mrs. Gaffey, and had been for six or seven years; he knew he attested the will from examining his signature, but he did not recall the circumstances; attested at the request of Mrs. Gaffey; had not known her before; did not remember where the attestation took place, but thought it must have been in the office of the trust company; thought testatrix was of sound mind. On cross-examination he stated that he had no distinct recollection of the transaction; thought it was the first occasion on which he had seen Mrs. Gaffey; would not know who was present except by seeing the signatures to the will; [199 Mo. 647] transaction did not take over five or ten minutes; facts...

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