Eaton v. Eaton

Citation124 N.E. 37,233 Mass. 351
PartiesEATON et al. v. EATON.
Decision Date09 July 1919
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts


Exceptions from Supreme Judicial Court, Essex County.

Suit by Ezra S. Eaton and others, executors, against Ella F. Eaton. Decree dismissing the bill, and plaintiffs except. Exceptions overruled.Whipple, Sears & Ogden, of Boston (Boyd B. Jones, Sherman L. Whipple, William R. Sears, and Arthur M. Boal, all of Boston, of counsel), for plaintiffs:

Charles F. Choate, Jr., of Boston (James D. Colt, of Boston, of counsel), for defendant.


This suit in equity is brought by the persons named as executors in an instrument purporting to be the last will of Charles S. Eaton, late of Marblehead, who died in October, 1917, to enjoin the defendant, his widow, from contesting the allowance of the instrument as such last will and from petitioning for a widow's allowance, and to compel her to perform specifically the terms of a certain antenuptial agreement executed between her and the deceased a day or two prior to their marriage in 1909.

[1] The defendant filed a demurrer, for want of equity amongst other causes, and appealed from an interlocutory decree overruling it. The same matter was set up in answer. The defendant in open court has waived her demurrer. Under these circumstances it is necessary only to consider whether the court has jurisdiction of the subject-matter. Consent or waiver by the parties cannot confer jurisdiction over a cause which is not vested in the court by law. It is the duty of the court to consider that point of its own motion. Peabody v. School Committee of Boston, 115 Mass. 383;National Fertilizer Co. v. Fall River Savings Bank, 196 Mass. 458, 462, 82 N. E. 671,14 L. R. A. (N. S.) 561,13 Ann. Cas. 510;Fourth National Bank v. Mead, 214 Mass. 549, 102 N. E. 69;Boston Bar Association v. Casey, 227 Mass. 46, 50, 116 N. E. 541.

[4][6] The bill sets out an antenuptial agreement, executed in due form, according to the terms of which the defendant agreed to accept certain testamentary provisions to be made in her behalf by the deceased in place of all other claims upon his estate, and alleges that the deceased complied with all the stipulations of that agreement on his part to be performed, and made and executed a will wherein all the obligations to the defendant under the antenuptial contract have been met; that the deceased by nominating the plaintiffs executors under the will imposed upon them the duty of presenting the will for allowance, and that in the attempt to perform that duty they find themselves obstructed wrongfully by the defendant in defiance of her covenant with the deceased. The prayer of the bill in substance and effect is that the obstacle in the way of their performance of duty caused by this unlawful conduct of the defendant may be removed. This presents a case under the circumstances within the jurisdiction of a court in equity. It is a necessary implication of every valid contract with covenants binding each party, that neither will interfere to prevent performance by the other. Hebert v. Dewey, 191 Mass. 403, 410, 77 N. E. 822;Bailey v. Marden, 193 Mass. 277, 279, 79 N. E. 257;Tighe v. Maryland Casualty Co., 218 Mass. 463, 468, 106 N. E. 135. It is an implied term of the antenuptial agreement here in issue that the defendant will not contest any will made by the deceased provided he carried out that agreement in all its parts. Such an agreement, after it has been fulfilled by the one agreeing or reserving to himself the right to execute a will, entitles his representatives to specific performance in equity. Sullings v. Richmond, 5 Allen, 187, 81 Am. Dec. 742;Tarbell v. Tarbell, 10 Allen, 278;Jenkins v. Holt, 109 Mass. 261;Paine v. Hollister, 139 Mass. 144, 29 N. E. 541. Contracts made after the death of a testator, as to the disposition of property received under the will, between legatees, heirs at law and others having a pecuniary interest therein, are recognized as valid and are enforced in equity. Ellis v. Hunt, 228 Mass. 39, 116 N. E. 956, and cases there collected. The heir at law of a deceased person, who has entered into an antenuptial contract as to the share to be received by his wife from his estate, may enforce specific performance of the contract. Collins v. Collins, 212 Mass. 131, 98 N. E. 588.

The case at bar falls within the principle of these decisions. The plaintiffs, although not yet appointed by the probate court as executors, have the specific duty to present and seek to have allowed the instrument purporting to be the last will of the deceased. They have sufficient interest to invoke the aid of equity against one who under these circumstances hinders them in the discharge of that duty contrary to the terms of her contract with the deceased.

The case was heard on its merits by a single justice of this court, who made findings of fact incorporated in the record and ordered the bill to be dismissed. The case comes here on exceptions by the plaintiffs. The pertinent facts as thus found are that the deceased, a widower of about 53 years having three sons, became engaged to be married to the defendant, then a widow of about 38 years, in 1909. The deceased had established and was the sole proprietor of a restaurant in Boston known as ‘Thompson's Spa.’ He was a man of unusual business ability and of more than average literary accomplishments, as well as of great foresight and determination in pushing through to a conclusion whatever he resolved upon. His business income from the time of his engagement until his death averaged not less than $100,000 per year. His other property was at least $180,000. In contemplation of his approaching marriage, the deceased conceived the idea of an antenuptial agreement, which he proposed to the defendant. It is conceded that this agreement was fairly made. After appropriate recitals, its essential terms enabled and bound him, provided the defendant became and continued his lawful wife and survived him: (1) To make such disposition of personal effects as he chose; (2) to give to such persons or purposes as he might name legacies not exceeding 10 per cent. in value of his real and personal estate as ascertained by the probate inventory; (3) to divide the residue into equal parts, one more in number than there were surviving children and issue of any deceased child taking by right of representation, one part to the defendant, one part to each surviving child, and one part to the issue of each deceased child by right of representation, the share of the defendant to be held by trustees on a spendthrift trust, the net income thereof to be paid to her during life; (4) to accept and receive from the estate of the defendant in case he survived her only that which might be willed to him. The defendant covenanted that, in case the deceased performed the stipulations resting on him under the agreement, she would accept the same in full of dower and other rights which otherwise she might claim from his estate. Three sons survived the deceased. He left no child nor children of a deceased child. Article 4 of the instrument offered for probate as the will of the deceased, after a recital in part of the provisions of the antenuptial agreement, and an assertion that it is made in pursuance of the terms of that agreement, establishes a spendthrift trust of one-fourth share of the remainder of his estate for the benefit of the defendant during her life, with a gift over. The sale of his interest in the Spa as soon as may be done without unreasonable loss is directed by article 6. It there is provided that his sons or any of them shall be given a preference over other prospective purchasers to the extent of permitting them to purchase at the same price offered by any bona fide purchaser, payment to be made wholly or in part by their unsecured notes bearing interest not exceeding 4 per cent. pending the settlement of his estate.

The plaintiffs contend that this will, with all its antecedent and concurrent facts, constitutes a performance of the antenuptial agreement. The defendant contends that the deceased intentionally violated that agreement during his life by giving to his sons for the purpose of defeating its covenants, a very large and substantial part of his estate.

It is not necessary to narrate the biographical details of the married lives of the deceased and the defendant. It is enough to say that, having been married in 1909, an estrangement came in 1914, followed by a separation, the deceased leaving the defendant at a house built at Pasadena, California, by him after the marriage at an expense including furnishings of approximately $175,000, to which the defendant had contributed $20,000, being substantially all of her estate. After a few months he returned to his home in this commonwealth and later filed a libel for divorce, which was pending unheard at the time of his death. During the period of his married life with the defendant before the estrangement, the deceased made to her valuable gifts and was most generous in expenditure for her dress and travel, but not in amounts beyond or inconsistent with his ample income. From the time of the estrangement until the execution of the instrument offered for probate, the mind of the deceased--

‘was centered upon the predominant purpose of so dealing with his property as to increase in so far as possible the share of his sons therein in rectification of what he considered the financial wrong done to them by the antenuptial agreement.’

In execution of that predominant purpose, with the full knowledge of the antenuptial agreement and its relation to his testamentary rights, he deliberately did three main things: (1) He caused to be organized a corporation for the ownership of the Pasadena property, the ultimate result thereby accomplished, without setting forth its various steps, being the indirect acquisition by his three sons, through holding of capital...

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  • Kerwin v. Kerwin
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • 1 Febrero 1945
    ...the purpose of reducing the share of his estate to which his wife is entitled under an antenuptial contract. Eaton v. Eaton, 233 Mass. 351, 369, et seq., 124 N.E. 37, 5 A.L.R. 1426. Nor are cases in which a woman married a man of supposed means in ignorance of the fact that on the eve of ma......
  • Attorney Gen. v. Pelletier
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • 21 Febrero 1922
    ...jurisdiction over the subject-matter to be determined.’ Peabody v. School Committee of Boston, 115 Mass. 383;Eaton v. Eaton, 233 Mass. 351, 364, 124 N. E. 37, 5 A. L. R. 1426. This portion of the case has been examined at large. It is covered, however, in every essential point by the recent......
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    ...main purpose is defeating the agreement and preventing it from operating for the benefit of those designated. See Eaton v. Eaton, 233 Mass. 351, 375-76, 124 N.E. 37 (1919); 1 Page on Wills § 10.23, pp. 519-21 (rev. ed.2003); Rheinstein, 30 N.Y.U. L.Rev. at 1232; see generally Restatement (S......
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    ...of `good faith' in a variety of transactions." Weigand at 176 (explaining that in Massachusetts, the 1919 case Eaton v. Eaton, 233 Mass. 351, 376, 124 N.E. 37 (1919), first indicated the "equity in the interest of good faith and fair dealing" and that Eaton and other decisions demonstrate t......
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