Haskell v. Wilmington Trust Co.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Delaware
Citation304 A.2d 53
Decision Date14 March 1973
PartiesMalcolm W. HASKELL et al., Defendants Below, Appellants, v. WILMINGTON TRUST COMPANY et al., Defendants Below, Appellees.

Upon appeal from the Court of Chancery.

Charles S. Crompton, Jr., and Michael D. Goldman, of Potter, Anderson & Corroon, Wilmington, Guardian Ad Litem for appellants and Attorney for Guardian Ad Litem respectively.

H. James Conaway, Jr., and Jack B. Jacobs, of Young, Conaway, Stargatt & Taylor, Wilmington, Guardian Ad Litem for Christopher D. Haskell and Attorney for Guardian Ad Litem respectively.

Rodney M. Layton, and Richard G. Elliott, Jr., of Richards, Layton & Finger, Wilmington, for Wilmington Trust Co.

WOLCOTT, Chief Justice, HERRMANN, Justice, and WRIGHT, Judge, sitting.

WOLCOTT, Chief Justice:

This is an appeal from an Order of the Chancellor giving the Trustee, Wilmington Trust Company, instructions with respect to an Inter vivos trust and a testamentary trust created by Harry Haskell, Sr., now deceased, (hereafter 'Trustor').

The Chancellor's Opinion is reported at 282 A.2d 636. Reference is made to that Opinion for the pertinent facts of this case and for the Chancellor's conclusions and rulings.

The primary question before us is whether remainders upon termination of a life estate to the 'issue' of the Trustor include Christopher Haskell, the adopted son of Trustor's son, Harry Haskell, Jr., the life beneficiary. The Chancellor held that Christopher came within that class.

The instruments in question were executed, and Trustor died, prior to 1952. The adoption statute in force at that time did not include adopted children in classes such as 'issue' of anyone other than the adoptive parents of the child. See, e.g., Industrial Trust Co. v. Glanding, 28 Del.Ch. 125, 38 A.2d 752 (1944), aff'd 29 Del.Ch. 517, 46 A.2d 881 (1946). In 1952, the present adoption statutes, 13 Del.C. §§ 919, 920, were enacted. Under the present law, Christopher, as an adopted child, qualifies as 'issue' of the Trustor.

The Chancellor held that the Inter vivos trust agreement and the will of Trustor manifest an intent on his part that the law as it exists at the termination of the life estate be applied in order to ascertain the members of the class which take as ultimate beneficiaries upon that event, and not the law as it existed at the time of execution of the instruments. We cannot say that this conclusion is wrong to the extent that we would be forced to overturn it, but we prefer a slightly different approach to the problem which leads to the same result.

The Chancellor recognized that the law at the date of creation of the trusts would govern unless the instruments in question manifest a clear intent to the contrary. We think, however, the better and more modern rule is that the applicable law to the determining of a class following the termination of a life interest is the law as it exists on the date of ascertainment, unless the documents themselves demonstate a clear intent on the part of the creator to limit the class as it was defined by law on the date of execution of the trusts.

If a will or trust instrument makes a gift to 'heirs' or 'next of kin' after the expiration of a life estate, the remainder beneficiaries are normally determined by the law in effect at the date of death of the life tenant. Seavey v. O'Brien, 307 Mass. 33, 29 N.E.2d 196 (1940); Gilliam v. Guaranty Trust Co., 186 N.Y. 127, 78 N.E. 697 (1906); Smith v. Hunter, 86 Ohio St. 106, 99 N.E. 91 (1912); Annot. 139 A.L.R. 1107, 1111; see 2 Page on Wills, § 939. The reason for this rule is that, 'when a testator makes a devise to a class, the membership in which is ascertainable at an indefinite future time, he is regarded as having contemplated the change in controlling laws prior to that time, and hence, is presumed, in the absence of any contrary context in the will, to have intended that the statutes in effect at the time the gift becomes operative be resorted to in determining membership in the class.' Major v. Kammer, Ky., 258 S.W.2d 506, 508 (1953).

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15 cases
  • Douglas v. Newell, s. 85-105
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • May 16, 1986
    ...504 (1950); Riggs National Bank of Washington, D.C. v. Zimmer, Del.Ch., 304 A.2d 69, aff'd 314 A.2d 178 (1973); Haskell v. Wilmington Trust Co., Del.Super., 304 A.2d 53 (1973); Friedman v. Cohen, 215 Ga. 859, 114 S.E.2d 24 (1960); Matter of Buffi's Estate, 98 Ida. 354, 564 P.2d 150 (1977); ......
  • Peele v. Finch, 46
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • December 12, 1973
    ...class entitled to take under a provision of a will creating a contingent interest, see: In Re Heard's Estate, supra; Haskell v. Wilmington Trust Co. (Del.), 304 A.2d 53; Major v. Kammer (Ky.), 258 S.W.2d 506; Sewall v. Roberts, 115 Mass. 262; Loring v. Thorndike, 87 Mass. 257; Thomas v. Hig......
  • Estate of Jenkins, Matter of, 94SC634
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Colorado
    • November 6, 1995
    ...that favor inclusion of adopted children. See, e.g., Zimmerman v. First Nat'l Bank, 348 So.2d 1359 (Ala.1977); Haskell v. Wilmington Trust Co., 304 A.2d 53 (Del.1973) (superseded by statute as stated in Annan v. Wilmington Trust Co., 559 A.2d 1289 (Del.1989)); Evans v. McCoy, 291 Md. 562, 4......
  • Will of Martell, In re, 83-1989
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • June 29, 1984
    ...comes within a class of remaindermen designated by will to take at the expiration of an intermediate or life estate. Haskell v. Wilmington Trust Co., 304 A.2d 53 (Del.1973); Breckinridge v. Skillman's Trustee, 330 S.W.2d 726 (Ky.1959); Commerce Trust Co. v. Weed, 318 S.W.2d 289 (Mo.1958); I......
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