Johnson v. Thornton, 19994

Decision Date14 April 1975
Docket NumberNo. 19994,19994
Citation264 S.C. 252,214 S.E.2d 124
CourtSouth Carolina Supreme Court
Parties, 87 A.L.R.3d 918 Martha G. JOHNSON, Respondent, v. Beverly Louise THORNTON and Bealer Christine Jakubecy, Appellants.

Kermit S. King and O. Fayrell Furr, Jr., Columbia, for appellants.

Robert J. Thomas, Columbia, for respondent.

MOSS, Chief Justice.

Martha G. Johnson, the respondent herein, brought this action against Beverly Louise Thornton and Bealer Christine Jakubecy, the appellants herein, under the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act, Section 10--2001 et seq., of the Code, to construe a purported testamentary trust set forth in Item V of the will of one Minnie Lee Johnson Ricks, who died in 1969, seized and possessed of a parcel of real property located in Richland County, which is the Corpus of the purported trust.

Item V of the will of Minnie Lee Johnson Ricks, which is of record in the Court of Probate for Richland County, is as follows 'I give and bequeath all real estate not mentioned I might own at my death to my daughter, Beverly Louise Thornton, as trustee for my three children, Beverly Louise Thornton, Casey McCullen Johnson and Bealer Christine Jakubecy. Beverly Louise Thornton, as trustee, shall have absolute, complete, and sole power in the management or sale of these properties and distribution of such funds that may arise from these properties.'

The respondent alleges in her complaint that Casey McCullen Johnson, one of the beneficiaries named in Item V of the will, died on March 20, 1972, and devised all of his property to her, including an undivided one-third interest in the trust property. It is further alleged that the trust created by Item V was a passive or dry trust and that fee simple title passed directly to the three named beneficiaries, each receiving an undivided one-third interest therein, pursuant to the Statute of Uses, Section 67--8 of the Code. The respondent further alleges that, even if the trust was not passive or dry, no purpose would be served by the trust, and it should be terminated in favor of the three persons holding the beneficial interest in the property, and that as owner of an undivided one-third interest therein, she is entitled to a partition, but since it is not practical to partition the property in kind, it should be sold and the proceeds divided equally among the beneficiaries.

The appellants, by their answer, deny that Casey McCullen Johnson had an undivided one-third interest in the property, and deny that the trust created by Item V was passive or dry and that fee simple title passed directly to the three named beneficiaries; but allege, on the contrary, that the trust was an active one and not executed by the Statute of Uses. The appellants also deny that there is no purpose being served by the trust and deny that the trust should be terminated in favor of the three named beneficiaries. They further allege that if the trust should be terminated because it is serving no purpose, then the property should revert to the estate of Minnie Lee Johnson Ricks and pass through the residuary clause of her will.

The appellants further allege that the terms of the trust setting out the duties of the Trustee are so vague and uncertain that it should be declared void at its inception, and a resulting trust to the estate declared and the corpus of the trust should pass by way of the residuary clause of the will.

As a further defense, the appellants allege that if the trust was valid, it was a discretionary one, giving the Trustee the absolute, complete, and sole power in the management or sale of the property and in the distribution of such funds that may arise therefrom, and respondent has no right to compel the Trustee to make any distribution to her even if she be declared to have a beneficial interest in the property.

This case was referred to the Master in Equity for Richland County, to take the testimony, and to make his recommendations. The Master, after holding a Reference, filed his report finding, Inter alia, that: (1) a valid trust was created in Item V of the will of Minnie Lee Johnson Ricks; (2) the trust, being a passive one, was executed by the Statute of Uses, Section 67--8 of the Code, and vested a fee simple title in the named beneficiaries; and (3) each of the beneficiaries owns a one-third undivided fee simple interest as a tenant in common in the trust property and that such property be sold for partition and the proceeds of the sale, after the payment of the costs of the action, be divided equally among the three named beneficiaries.

The appellants duly excepted to the Report of the Master, and such exceptions were heard by the Honorable Wade S. Weatherford, Presiding Judge, who confirmed the Report of the Master with the modification that, in conformity with the request and agreement of counsel, the parties have an opportunity to negotiate a private sale of the property within a period of three months after the date of the decree, and failing in this, that the property be sold in accordance with the recommendations of the Master. The trial judge also held that Beverly Louise Thornton had defaulted in her duties as Trustee, and because of such the trust should be terminated. This appeal followed.

The first question for determination is whether there was error on the part of the lower court in finding and concluding that a valid trust was created in Item V of the will of Minnie Lee Johnson Ricks. In determining this question we are guided by the rule that in construing the provisions of a will the intention of the testator is the primary inquiry of the court. Rickard v. Miller, 231...

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15 cases
  • Wilson v. Dallas
    • United States
    • South Carolina Supreme Court
    • 8 Mayo 2013
    ...the cardinal rule of trusts and estates law that the intent of the testator must prevail wherever possible. See Johnson v. Thornton, 264 S.C. 252, 257, 214 S.E.2d 124, 127 (1975) (“In determining this question we are guided by the rule that in construing the provisions of a will the intenti......
  • Wilson v. Dallas
    • United States
    • South Carolina Supreme Court
    • 27 Febrero 2013
    ...the cardinal rule of trusts and estates law that the intent of the testator must prevail wherever possible. See Johnson v. Thornton, 264 S.C. 252, 257, 214 S.E.2d 124, 127 (1975) ("In determining this question we are guided by the rule that in construing the provisions of a will the intenti......
  • All Saints Parish v. Protestant Episcopal Church
    • United States
    • South Carolina Supreme Court
    • 23 Abril 2004
    ...equitable interest of one person into a legal interest and extinguishing the legal interest of the other."); Johnson v. Thornton, 264 S.C. 252, 257, 214 S.E.2d 124, 127 (1975) ("In a passive trust the legal and equitable titles are merged in the beneficiaries and the beneficial use is conve......
  • Epworth Children's Home v. Beasley
    • United States
    • South Carolina Supreme Court
    • 18 Julio 2005
    ...of a trust, identifies the property to which the trust pertains, and names a trustee and a beneficiary. Johnson v. Thornton, 264 S.C. 252, 257, 214 S.E.2d 124, 127 (1975). In a trust, the trustee holds the legal estate or title for the benefit of the beneficiary. The beneficiary holds the e......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2 provisions
  • Act 100, SB 143 – Probate Code
    • United States
    • South Carolina Session Laws
    • 1 Enero 2013
    ...of administering the trust for the benefit of the beneficiaries and according to the objectives of the settlor. In Johnson v. Thornton, 264 S.C. 252, 214 S.E.2d 124 (S.C. 1975), the court recognized the existence of a trustee's duty to deal impartially with two or more beneficiaries. See al......
  • Act 66, SB 422 – Uniform Trust Code
    • United States
    • South Carolina Session Laws
    • 1 Enero 2005
    ...of administering the trust for the benefit of the beneficiaries and according to the objectives of the settlor. In Johnson v. Thornton, 264 S.C. 252, 214 S.E.2d 124 (S.C. 1975), the court recognized the existence of a trustee's duty to deal impartially with two or more beneficiaries. See al......

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