Goodno v. Hotchkiss

Decision Date23 October 1916
Docket Number1437.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Connecticut
PartiesGOODNO et al. v. HOTCHKISS et al.

Prentice W. Chase and A. Heaton Robertson, both of New Haven, Conn for plaintiffs.

George D. Watrous and Thomas M. Steele, both of New Haven, Conn for defendant Marie O. Hotchkiss.

Henry Stoddard, of New Haven, Conn., for defendant Yale University.

THOMAS District Judge.

This case arises on final hearing on pleadings and proofs in a bill in equity. The plaintiffs are Louise T. Goodno and her husband, William C. Goodno, both residing in Pasadena, Cal. Mrs. Goodno brings this suit individually in her own right and as executrix of the last will and testament of her father, Nathaniel S. Hotchkiss, deceased. The defendants are Marie O. Hotchkiss, individually and as executrix of the last will and testament of her mother, Mary A. F. Hotchkiss, widow of Henry O. Hotchkiss, and as administratrix of the estate of her brother, William H. Hotchkiss, deceased, and Yale University, both legal residents of New Haven, Conn.

Henry O. Hotchkiss died domiciled in New Haven on the 4th day of December, 1883. He left a widow, Mary A. F. Hotchkiss, and three children, Nathaniel S., William H., and Marie O. Mary A. F. Hotchkiss, Nathaniel S., and William H. have since died. The plaintiff Louise T. Goodno is a daughter of Nathaniel. Mary A. F. Hotchkiss left a will, and her daughter Marie, one of the defendants, is the executrix of said will and is also the administratrix of the estate of her brother William, who died intestate.

The bill of complaint charges in substance that said Henry O. Hotchkiss, deceased, left an unsigned will, and that, following his death, the widow, Mary A. F. Hotchkiss, and his three children surviving him, to wit, Marie O. Hotchkiss, William H. Hotchkiss, and Nathaniel S. Hotchkiss (father of the plaintiff Louise T. Goodno) mutually agreed in writing to divide the estate of said Henry O. Hotchkiss among themselves in the proportions indicated by him in his unsigned will, and that thereafter a division was effected in accordance with the terms of the so-called 'family agreement.' It is further alleged in the bill that this division did not carry out and effect the actual intention manifested in the unsigned will; that after this division was made said Mary A. F. Hotchkiss settled her account as administratrix; that thereafter said Mary A. F. Hotchkiss drafted a will in her own handwriting, which was duly executed, and which, with subsequent codicils, was admitted to probate June 8, 1912; that the estate of said Mary A. F. Hotchkiss consisted in part of property which she had obtained from her husband under the division made according to the terms of the family agreement and in violation of the provisions of the unsigned will, and also in part of property which she had obtained from the estate of her son, William H. Hotchkiss, who had predeceased her, and which was given to him in violation of the provisions of the unsigned will and the family agreement, and that all of said property so obtained by said Mary A. F. hotchkiss was subject to a trust arising from the actual agreement and the terms of the unsigned will; that the defendant Marie O. Hotchkiss was the executrix of said will and codicils of her mother, Mary A. F. Hotchkiss, and was also the administratrix of her brother's estate; that Yale University is a legatee named in said will of Mary A. F. Hotchkiss; and that certain parts of said will are vague and indefinite.

The bill of complaint then prays that the family agreement be given its true effect by this court, and also demands its enforcement pursuant to the provisions of the unsigned will as construed by the plaintiff; that the amount of the share belonging to the estate of Nathaniel S. Hotchkiss, deceased, or due his heir at law, Louise T. Goodno, be ascertained, and that judgment be rendered for said amount against the defendants, who now hold or claim said property; that the mutual distribution of January 9, 1884, be set aside on the ground that it was made by mistake, and is unjust, inequitable, and without consideration; that it be corrected to conform to the true intent and meaning of the parties; a construction of the will of Mary A. F. Hotchkiss; an accounting from Marie O. Hotchkiss as executrix of all the property coming to her formerly belonging to the estate of Henry O. Hotchkiss, deceased; its earnings and increase from the date of the division; an accounting from said Marie O. Hotchkiss individually for all moneys she has received from the principal of the estate of Henry O. Hotchkiss from the date of the family agreement; a judgment that she be directed to pay said moneys into court for the purpose of apportioning the same under the plaintiff's construction of the family agreement; an accounting from said Marie O. Hotchkiss, as administratrix of the estate of her brother, William H. Hotchkiss, deceased, for all moneys and properties received by William H. Hotchkiss during his life, or by her as administratrix since his decease, and to pay into this court such sums as may be found to have been received by said William H. Hotchkiss over and above his lawful share in the estate of his father, Henry O. Hotchkiss.

Separate answers have been filed to this bill of complaint by the daughter Marie, as administratrix, executrix, and individually, and by Yale University. In addition to a general denial, which has been filed by each defendant, their answers set up several special defenses, which are as follows:

(1) The mistake in the execution of the family agreement and the proceedings thereunder, if any was one of law, pure and simple, for which equity can grant no relief.

(2) Res adjudicata arising, first, from a decree of the court of probate for the district of New Haven, dated October 23, 1913, finally and completely distributing the estate of Henry O. Hotchkiss, from which decree an appeal has never been taken; and, second, the judgments of the state courts of Connecticut in the appeal from the probate of the will of Mary A. F. Hotchkiss on the ground of mental incapacity and undue influence, and the appeal from the orders of the court of probate, disallowing the supplementary account of the daughter Marie, as executrix of the estate of her mother on the intestate estate of Henry O. Hotchkiss, and appointing an administrator de bonis non of the estate of Henry O. Hotchkiss.

(3) That all of the claims relied upon by the plaintiff have been barred by statutes of limitation and nonclaim.

The facts upon which the case hinges are substantially as follows:

The estate of Henry O. Hotchkiss amounted to approximately $265,000. After his death there was found among his papers a holographic draft of a will drawn in 1873, which was never executed, by which he intended to give $10,000 to each of his three children, Nathaniel, William, and Marie, and $5,000 additional to his daughter, Marie, because, as stated in this draft, Marie had not had the same advantages or opportunities for providing for her comfort as the boys, thus making the total gift to his daughter $15,000. It then provided that all the rest and residue of his estate be given to his wife, Mary, and to her heirs forever. In this draft he referred to his wife as one 'who had so long and faithfully aided me to acquire my estate,' and then added:

'Having the fullest confidence in her good judgment that any reasonable requirements of our children will receive her approval and assistance, and furthermore, I hope and believe our children will be satisfied with the provision made for their mother and do all in their power to aid and assist her.'

Following Mr. Hotchkiss' death, and on January 9, 1884, letters of administration were granted to his widow as administratrix of his intestate estate, and on the same day his widow and the three children entered into a family agreement in writing, which was signed, executed, witnessed, and acknowledged as a deed of real estate, and which follows the provisions of the Connecticut statute-- Revision of 1902, Sec. 395-- providing for a mutual distribution of the estate of a deceased person, and which has the same effect as a distribution made by distributors and is a substitute for it (Mathews' Appeal, 72 Conn. 555, 559, 45 A. 170; Seymour v. Seymour, 22 Conn. 272), which family agreement is as follows:

'Whereas, Henry O. Hotchkiss, late of New Haven, Connecticut, deceased, left an instrument purporting to be his last will and testament, but said instrument was not signed and executed by him as a will;
'And whereas, we, Mary A. F. Hotchkiss, the widow, and Nathaniel S. Hotchkiss, William H. Hotchkiss, and Marie O. Hotchkiss, the three and only children of said Henry O. Hotchkiss, deceased, being the only persons interested in said estate of Henry O. Hotchkiss, and believing that said unexecuted will discloses the real intention of said deceased as to the disposition of his property, and we being desirous of carrying that intention into full effect:
'Therefore we have entered into the following mutual agreement:
'We do hereby mutually agree, in consideration of the promises and agreements of the other parties to this instrument, that when the estate of said Henry O. Hotchkiss is ready for distribution that we will divide the same between ourselves in the manner and in the proportion indicated in said instrument purporting to be the unexecuted will of said deceased, which instrument is hereto annexed and made part of this agreement.
'And we, the said Nathaniel S. Hotchkiss, William H. Hotchkiss, and Marie O. Hotchkiss, the children of said deceased, for the consideration aforesaid, do hereby bargain, sell, and convey to our mother, said Mary A. F.
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