Copp v. Worcester County Nat. Bank

Decision Date02 June 1964
Citation347 Mass. 548,199 N.E.2d 200
PartiesHelen G. COPP v. WORCESTER COUNTY NATIONAL BANK, trustee, et al.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court

Donald K. McInnes, Boston (John R. Hally, Boston, with him), for The Union Bank of Los Angeles.

No argument or brief for petitioner.


CUTTER, Justice.

This is a petition for declaratory relief by Helen G. Copp, widow of Ernest G. Copp (the testator), who died April 27, 1960, leaving a will executed September 2, 1924. The petition concerns a trust, of which Worcester County National Bank is trustee, created by cl. 1 of the will.

The first paragraph of cl. 1 gave all the testator's property in trust 'to pay the income * * * to my wife, Helen G. Copp, during her life, provided she does not remarry.' Then followed the second and third paragraphs of cl. 1: '[2nd par.] I * * * authorize my * * * trustee * * * to spend from the principal * * * such sum or sums, not to exceed [f]ive [h]undred * * * [d]ollars, as may be necessary or desirable for the proper support and maintenance of my * * * wife, if the income * * * is not sufficient to accomplish the aforesaid purpose. [3d par.] Upon the death of my * * * wife or upon her remarriage, I direct my trustee to pay the income * * * to my children, Gilbert E. Copp and Gordon M. Copp in equal shares until they shall reach * * * thirty * * *. When either of said children shall attain the age of thirty * * * I direct my said trustee to transfer * * * to him one-half of the principal * * *.' 1

The trust concerns the sum of $15,000. Each son of the testator is now over thirty. The remainder beneficial interest of Gordon Copp under the third paragraph of cl. 1 has been awarded, in a separate suit in equity, to his creditor, the Union Bank of Los Angeles (the Los Angeles bank).

No evidence was introduced, but the probate judge comments that 'different situations were offered in argument by counsel.' The judge stated the foregoing facts in his report of material facts, in which he also ruled that the sum of $500 mentioned in paragraph 2 is not either 'a lifetime or [an] annual limit.' He concluded that 'the purpose of the testator was to benefit his wife,' who was 'his principal interest.' A decree was entered directing the trustee to pay to the widow as life beneficiary 'sums not exceeding five hundred dollars each, said payments to be made at any given time when it is found to be necessary or desirable for the proper support * * * of the life * * * [beneficiary, the widow] when the income from * * * [the] trust is not sufficient to accomplish the purposes of the trust.' The Los Angeles bank appealed.

1. Paragraph 2 of cl. 1 is ambiguous. We think, as did the probate judge, that the principal interest of the testator in leaving this trust, now $15,000, was the care of his widow. 2 A power to expend principal was a prudent provision to accomplish this purpose and must be interpreted in a manner consistent with that purpose. We conclude that the testator did not intend to limit the possible expenditure of principal to aggregate payments of $500 during the widow's entire life, for total payments of $500 would be likely to be inadequate to meet her needs. Such a limitation might thus defeat accomplishment of the testator's primary objective. In the testamentary language, we perceive no basis for limiting the payments to annual aggregate payments not exceeding $500. The words, 'such sum or sums,' contemplate the possibility of more than one payment. In the absence of more explicit language of limitation, we agree with the probate judge that the trustee is authorized to expend from principal such sum or sums, not exceeding $500 in any one payment, for the support or maintenance of the widow at any time or times when the trustee determines in good faith and reasonably that the income is not sufficient and that the widow's circumstances are such as to require such a payment for her reasonable support and maintenance. In the exercise of this power, the trustee is to take into account all the relevant circumstances known to it, including the sufficiency or insufficiency of the trust income, the size of the trust estate, the probable diminution of future trust income as a consequence of each such expenditure of principal, the extent of the widow's then existing need, her probable future needs,...

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18 cases
  • Markham v. Fay
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — First Circuit
    • December 4, 1995
    ...powers and duties set forth in the trust instrument. Stone, 203 N.E.2d at 552; Fine, 623 N.E.2d at 1139. In Copp v. Worcester County Nat'l Bank, 347 Mass. 548, 199 N.E.2d 200 (1964), the court found that the trust instrument's direction that the trustee invade principal for the life benefic......
  • Dana v. Gring
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court
    • December 28, 1977
    ...N.E.2d 504 (1967); Boston Safe Deposit & Trust Co. v. Stone, 348 Mass. 345, 351, 203 N.E.2d 547 (1965); Copp v. Worcester County Nat'l Bank, 347 Mass. 548, 551, 199 N.E.2d 200 (1964). Following this principle we concluded in Woodberry, 359 Mass. at 243, 268 N.E.2d at 844 that "the clause we......
  • Billings v. Fowler
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court
    • February 25, 1972
    ...from, uncertainty . . . with respect to rights.' We have exercised the authority to grant such relief. Copp v. Worcester County Nat. Bank, 347 Mass. 548, 551--552, 199 N.E.2d 200. See Old Colony Trust Co. v. Silliman, 352 Mass. 6, 9--11, 223 N.E.2d 504; Old Colony Trust Co. v. Board of Gove......
  • Porst v. Deutsche Bank Nat'l Trust Co. (In re Porst)
    • United States
    • U.S. Bankruptcy Court — District of Massachusetts
    • October 4, 2012
    ...trustee's conveyance of the property. Moreover, the Appeals Court in Marchand cited the SJC's decision in Copp v. Worcester County Nat'l Bank, 347 Mass. 548, 199 N.E.2d 200 (1964), as support for the existence of a trustee's fiduciary duty. In Copp, which apparently involved an irrevocable ......
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