Blanchette v. Blanchette

CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
Citation287 N.E.2d 459,362 Mass. 518
PartiesMarie Ange Annette BLANCHETTE v. Robert L. BLANCHETTE.
Decision Date19 September 1972

Page 459

287 N.E.2d 459
362 Mass. 518
Marie Ange Annette BLANCHETTE
Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Essex.
Argued April 6, 1972.
Decided Sept. 19, 1972.

[362 Mass. 519]

Page 460

Joseph P. McKay, Salem, for petitioner. John J. Jennings, Lynn, for respondent.


[362 Mass. 519] BRAUCHER, Justice.

This is a petition brought in connection with the divorce of the parties by the petitioner Marie to determine her interest in certain property including 168 shares (the stock) of the American Telephone & Telegraph Company (the company). The petition was referred to a master who heard the parties, filed a report, and made general findings, among others, that the respondent Robert was the sole owner of the stock and that there was no gift or attempted gift of the stock to Marie.

Marie objected to that part of the report which related to the stock. After a hearing, the judge issued a decree overruling Marie's exceptions, confirming the report, declaring the stock to be the sole property of Robert and ordering Marie to execute any documents necessary to give effect to the ownership of the stock, as determined by the decree, upon the records of the company. Marie appeals from the decree, contending that the subsidiary facts reported by the master do not support his general findings with respect to the ownership of the stock.

The master's report having been confirmed, his findings establish the facts in the case. Foot v. Bauman, 333 Mass. 214, 219, 129 N.E.2d 916; Flynn v. Town of Seekonk, 352 Mass. 71, [362 Mass. 520] 72, 223 N.E.2d 690. We summarize them. The parties were married on November 17, 1945. While married they both worked, with a few interruptions, at steady jobs. In 1955 Robert was working for the company, and under a company plan began to buy shares of stock in the compny at eighty-five per cent of market value through a weekly deduction from his pay.

Robert wanted to avoid the expense of probate and legal proceedings if he should die. When he expressed this desire in

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connection with the stock purchase plan to the people where he worked, he was told that the only way to achieve it was to have the stock issued to himself and Marie as joint tenants. The stock could have been issued to the parties as tenants in common, but Robert purposely avoided that option. When he started to acquire the stock, he told Marie he put them in both their names as joint tenants 'in case something happened' to him and that they would then be hers 'without probate or lawyer.' The certificates were issued at his request to 'Robert L. Blanchette & Mrs. Marie A. Blanchette, Joint Tenants.' He executed assignments to himself and Marie 'as Joint Tenants with rights of survivorship and not as Tenants in Common,' and she also signed some of the documents in this form. The last certificate was issued on June 30, 1964.

Marie took no part in the purchase of the stock and did not know when the stock certificates were issued or how many shares were acquired. Her impression was that they would be hers only after Robert's death, and she did not think she had the right to sell any interest in them or to do anything with them without his signature. She signed dividend checks; on many occasions Robert Signed her name to the checks. Robert never told her that she owned half of the stock. The certificates were kept in a wardrobe in their bedroom when they separated on February 7, 1965, and at that time Marie did demand one of two bankbooks usually kept in the same place, but she did not ask for any [362 Mass. 521] of the stock. She was content with the bankbook There is no finding that she made any claim to the stock before the parties' divorce on May 14, 1969.

The master's general findings included the following: Robert 'never at any time indicated by conduct or words that he intended to transfer any present interest in these stocks to his wife.' The words 'Joint Tenants' were used 'only because this form of issuance was the only one authorized by Robert's employer which approximated his desire to make his wife 'his beneficiary' if he died. Robert did not in any way attempt to make a gift of these stocks to his wife and no gift of these stocks was in fact made.'

1. The master's findings must stand unless they are inconsistent, contradictory or plainly wrong. Crowley v. J. C. Ryan Constr., Inc., 356 Mass. 31, 34, 247 N.E.2d 714; Gil-Bern Constr. Corp. v. City of Medford, 357 Mass. 620, 623, 260 N.E.2d 160. We have applied to share certificates in joint names the same principles we have applied to joint bank accounts. Graham v. Barnes, 259 Mass. 534, 538, 156 N.E. 865; Barnes v. Chandler, 277 Mass. 395, 398, 178 N.E. 735; Castle v. Wightman, 303 Mass. 74, 77--78, 20 N.E.2d 436; Berry v. Kyes, 304 Mass. 56, 61--62, 22 N.E.2d 622; MacLennan v. MacLennan, 316 Mass. 593, 597, 55 N.E.2d 928; Zambunos v. Zambunos, 324 Mass. 220, 223, 85 N.E.2d 328; DOUCETTE V. DOUCETTE, MASS., 279 N.E.2D 901;A MILES V. CAPLES, MASS., 284 N.E.2D 231.B In disputes arising while both parties to a joint bank account are still alive we have frequently upheld allegations or findings that there was no donative intent. Bradford v. Eastman, 229 Mass. 499, 501, 118 N.E. 879; Moreau v. Moreau, 250 Mass. 110, 113, 145 N.E. 43; R. H. White Co. v. Lees, 267 Mass. 112, 115, 166 N.E. 705; Bedirian v. Zorian, 287 Mass. 191, 196, 191 N.E. 448; Gibbons v. Gibbons, 296 Mass. 89, 90--91, 4 N.E.2d 1019; Campagna v. Campagna, 337 Mass. 599, 604, 150 N.E.2d 699; Doucette v. Doucette, supra, at ---, c 279 N.E.2d 901. A finding as to the respective interests of the parties in joint deposits during their lives is a pure question of fact. Milan v. Boucher, 285 Mass. 590, 594, 189 N.E. 576 (husband and wife 'equally interested'); Greeley v.

Page 462

Flynn, 310 Mass. 23, 27--28, 36 N.E.2d 394 (revocable trust for donee); Drain v. Brookline Sav. Bank, 327 Mass. [362 Mass. 522] 435, 441, 99 N.E.2d 160 (gift subject to withdrawal by donor).

Share certificates are less likely than bank accounts to be put in joint names merely for convenience, and in two cases we have disapproved findings that share certificates were placed in joint names without donative intent. MacLennan v. MacLennan, 316 Mass. 593, 597, 55 N.E.2d 928; Zambunos v. Zambunos, 324 Mass. 220, 223, 85 N.E.2d 328. Compare McPherson v. McPherson, 337 Mass. 611, 614, 150 N.E.2d 727 (real estate); Goldman v. Finkel, 341 Mass. 492, 494, 170 N.E.2d 474 (real estate). In both of those cases, as in this one, the intention was clear that the husband was to have sole control during his life and that whatever should remain at his death, if the wife survived, should ripen into full ownership by her. The finding that no present gift was intended would logically have the effect of frustrating the intention of the parties by rendering their arrangement testamentary and void. We avoided that result by substituting a finding of an intention to make a present gift of a joint interest, with the effect intended by the parties. In effect, there was a present gift of a future interest, subject to a reserved life estate in the husband and to his power to revoke his wife's interest. The result was based on our duty to draw proper inferences from the subsidiary findings unaffected by the conclusions of the trier of fact. We have the same duty in reviewing the subsidiary findings and conclusions of a master. Robinson v. Pero, 272 Mass. 482, 484, 172 N.E. 599, and cases cited;...

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