Cauffman v. Long

Decision Date29 May 1876
PartiesCauffman <I>et al. versus</I> Long.
CourtPennsylvania Supreme Court


ERROR to the Court of Common Pleas of Perry county: No. 28. Of May Term 1876.





Lewis Potter and Charles A. Barnett, for plaintiffs in error.— The testimony to show testamentary incapacity was not sufficient: McMasters v. Blair, 5 Casey 302; Dickinson v. Dickinson, 11 P. F. Smith 401. There was no evidence of delusion: Graham's Appeal, 11 P. F. Smith 46. Issue refused for insufficient evidence: De Puy Estate, 1 Weekly Notes 212; Thompson v. Kyner, 15 P. F. Smith 380; Stevenson v. Stevenson, 9 Casey 469. Review of the facts on one side may mislead jury: Parker v. Donaldson, 6 W. & S. 132; Neiman v. Ward, 1 W. & S. 68; Heilbruner & Co. v. Wayte, 1 P. F. Smith 259. It was error to submit to the jury the evidence of delusion, when there is no evidence: Musselman v. E. B. & Waynesburg Railroad Co., 2 Weekly Notes 105; Evans v. Mengel, 1 Barr 68; Haines v. Stouffer, 10 Id. 363; Sartwell v. Wilcox, 8 Harris 117.

Sponsler & Lyons, for defendant in error.

Mr. Justice PAXSON delivered the opinion of the court, May 29th 1876.

The growing disposition of courts and juries to set aside last wills and testaments, and to substitute in lieu thereof their own notions as to what a testator should do with his property, is not to be encouraged. No right of the citizen is more valued than the power to dispose of his property by will. No right is more solemnly assured to him by the law. Nor does it depend in any sense upon the judicious exercise of it. It rarely happens that a man bequeaths his estate to the entire satisfaction of either his family or friends. In many instances testamentary dispositions of property seem harsh, if not unjust, the result, perhaps, of prejudice as to some of the testator's kindred, or undue partiality as to others. But these are matters about which we have no concern. The law wisely secures equality of distribution where a man dies intestate. But the very object of a will is to produce inequality, and to provide for the wants of the testator's family; to protect those who are helpless; to reward those who have been affectionate, and to punish those who have been disobedient. It is doubtless true that narrow prejudice sometimes interferes with the wisdom of such arrangements. This is due to the imperfections of our human nature. It must be remembered that in this country a man's prejudices are a part of his liberty. He has a right to them; he may be unjust to his children or relatives; he is entitled to the control of his property while living, and by will to direct its use after his death, subject only to such restrictions as are imposed by law. Where a man has sufficient memory and understanding to make a will, and such instrument is not the result of undue influence, but is the uncontrolled act of his own mind, it is not to be set aside in Pennsylvania without sufficient evidence, nor upon any sentimental notions of equality.

In this case the question of fraud and undue influence was withdrawn from the jury by the learned judge of the court below for the reason that there was not sufficient evidence upon this point to submit to them. But he did submit the question of testamentary capacity, and upon this issue the jury found against the will. The verdict does not surprise us, in view of the provisions of the will itself, and of the manner in which the case was tried. Henry Cauffman was an old man, with strong peculiarities, living with his sons; to a great extent secluded from the world; a seclusion enforced by rheumatism for several of the last years of his life; reticent and unsocial in his habits. Two of his sons remained at home working for their father until his death, at which time they had respectively reached the ages of forty-seven and fifty-five. They had evidently aided him materially in the accumulation of his fortune. His daughters left home when comparatively young, and one of them at least appears to have married without his consent. It is also probable he inherited the disposition so prevalent in the last century, of favoring the sons at the expense of the daughters. In any event he does not seem to have had much affection for the latter or their children, and practically disinherited them. Under these circumstances it is not surprising that the jury found against the will upon the question of testamentary capacity, especially in view of that portion of the charge of the learned judge embraced in the tenth specification of error. In referring to the testator's prejudice against Mrs. Long, one of his daughters, and the defendant in the feigned issue, he said: "If it arose from the belief in his mind that she should have remained with him and worked year by year (she is now fifty years old), until he was dead, and if she did not, she was entitled to nothing, or but little, this would be such an unreasonable...

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63 cases
  • Duross' Estate, In re
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Supreme Court
    • April 20, 1959
    ... ... McCown v. Fraser, 327 Pa. 561, 192 A. 674, 676; Cauffman v. Long, 82 Pa. 72.' * * *'. See to the same effect: In re Borsch's Estate, 362 Pa. 581, 67 A.2d 119; Guarantee Trust & Safe Deposit Co. v ... ...
  • Phillips' Estate
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Supreme Court
    • February 9, 1914
    ...likes and dislikes, acquired by her associations in life, were her own as much as the property of which she made distribution." (Cauffman v. Long, 82 Pa. 72, 77.) A court of instance is always in a better position than a reviewing tribunal to pass upon the elements of fact entering into cas......
  • Sommerville's Estate, In re
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Supreme Court
    • January 17, 1962
    ...of his property while living and may bestow it as he sees fit' at his death. McCown v. Fraser, 327 Pa. 561, 192 A. 674, 676; Cauffman v. Long, 82 Pa. 72.' * * *' See to the same effect: In re Borsch's Estate, 362 Pa. 581, 67 A.2d 119; Guarantee Trust & Safe Deposit Co. [of Shamokin] v. Heid......
  • Higbee Will
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Supreme Court
    • September 26, 1950
    ...control of his property while living and may bestow it as he sees fit" at his death: McCown v. Fraser, 327 Pa. 561, 192 A. 674; Cauffman v. Long, 82 Pa. 72. Contestants had the burden of proving that at time testatrix made her will and/or her codicils she lacked testamentary capacity, altho......
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