Lamb's Estate, In re

Decision Date20 December 1971
Citation445 Pa. 323,285 A.2d 163
PartiesIn re ESTATE of Marie A. LAMB, a/k/a Marion Lamb, Deceased. Appeal of James Francis LAMB.
CourtPennsylvania Supreme Court

Howard J. Casper, William L. Kinsley, Davis & Casper, Philadelphia, for appellant.

John H. Neeson, Jr., Philadelphia, for appellee, J. Russel Gibbons, Executor-Accountant.

George S. Forde, Jr., Philadelphia, for appellee, St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.

Walter B. Gibbons, Philadelphia, for appellees, Sacred Heart Free Home for Incurable Cancer, et al.



ROBERTS, Justice.

This appeal requires that we determine whether the specific devise of a house 'including the contents thereof, absolutely' is a gift of not only the furniture and furnishings but also of three savings accounts, a checking account, three savings bank certificates and uncashed checks payable to testatrix. These latter items all found in the house amount to $46,140.63, and constitute a substantial part of the estate.

Testatrix, Marie A. Lamb, died April 27, 1971 leaving a will dated October 22, 1968 which was duly admitted to probate. The sole specific bequest in the will devised the 'property 4907 Cedar Avenue . . . including the contents thereof, absolutely' to her nephew; the residuary estate was bequested in equal shares to five named charities.

The nephew-appellant claims that testatrix' gift to him of the contents of the house included the savings and checking accounts, the savings bank certificates and the uncashed checks. The charities-appellees contend that these bank items are not part of the 'contents' of the house and are properly includable in the residuary clause. The court decreed distribution of these assets to the appellees. Appellant filed exceptions which were denied by the court en banc. This appeal followed. We affirm the adjudication of the orphans' court.

It is well settled that '. . . the duty of the court is to ascertain, if possible, the intent of the testator . . .' and '. . . the court must garner, if possible, the intent of the testator from a consideration of All the language contained in the four corners of the will, together with all the surrounding and attendant circumstances and from the scheme of distribution and not merely from isolated clauses or provisions of the will. . . .' Hill Estate, 432 Pa. 269, 272, 247 A.2d 606, 608--609 (1968) (emphasis in original); Schappell Estate, 424 Pa. 390, 392, 227 A.2d 651, 652 (1967); Vandergrift Estate, 406 Pa. 14, 26, 177 A.2d 432, 438 (1962).

The testatrix clearly manifested an intent to leave her nephew a specific devise and the residuary estate to the five named charities. If appellant's construction of the will is correct, he will receive practically the entire estate and the testatrix' charitable intention as expressed in the residuary clause would be meaningless and ineffective. Furthermore, the testatrix specifically directed that all estate and inheritance taxes be borne by the 'general estate' and all 'legacies, devises and other gifts of principal and income' to her beneficiaries, be free of such taxes. Under appellant's construction of the will, testatrix' tax direction would be frustrated since no assets would be left to satisfy these tax obligations. To give meaning to the residuary clause and the allocation of the tax burden, appellant's construction of the phrase 'including the contents thereof, absolutely' cannot be accepted. As this Court observed in Vandergrift, supra, '. . . a construction which renders any of the words nugatory and futile must be rejected. . . .' 406 Pa. 14, 23, 177 A.2d 432, 438 (1962).

A similar issue was presented to the New York courts in Re Falvey's Will, 15 A.D.2d 415, 224 N.Y.S.2d 899, aff'd, 12 N.Y.2d 759, 234 N.Y.S.2d 713, 183 N.E.2d 563 (1962) (per curiam). There the will left a house 'together with all fixtures, furnishings and all property and articles of whatsoever nature found therein' to two named beneficiaries and also created a charitable trust of the residuary estate. The named beneficiaries there, as the nephew here, claimed that the contents of the house included not only the furnishings but also United States Savings bonds which constituted a...

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9 cases
  • Estate of Shoptaugh, In re
    • United States
    • Indiana Appellate Court
    • September 16, 1985
    ...v. Crapps (1948), 204 Ga. 264, 49 S.E.2d 523; Old Colony Trust Co. v. Hale (1939), 302 Mass. 68, 18 N.E.2d 432; In re Estate of Lamb (1971), 445 Pa. 323, 285 A.2d 163; Matter of Estate of Rudy (1984), 329 Pa.Super. 458, 478 A.2d 879; Re Falvey's Will (1962), 15 App.Div.2d 415, 224 N.Y.S.2d ......
    • United States
    • Mississippi Supreme Court
    • August 23, 2001
    ...Falvey's Will, 15 A.D.2d 415, 224 N.Y.S.2d 899 (1962), aff'd 12 N.Y.2d 759, 234 N.Y.S.2d 713, 186 N.E.2d 563 (1962); In re Estate of Lamb, 445 Pa. 323, 285 A.2d 163 (1971); In re Estate of Rudy, 329 Pa.Super. 458, 478 A.2d 879 (1984)). The gift of the "contents" of a home is limited to thos......
  • Davis v. Shanks
    • United States
    • Texas Court of Appeals
    • August 25, 1994
    ...482 N.E.2d 1142, 1144 (Ind.Ct.App.1985); Old Colony Trust Co. v. Hale, 302 Mass. 68, 18 N.E.2d 432, 433 (1939); In re Estate of Lamb, 445 Pa. 323, 285 A.2d 163, 164 (1971); see generally 80 AM.JUR.2D Wills § 1277 (1975); D.C. Barrett, Annotation, What Passes Under Legacy or Bequest of Thing......
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals
    • April 22, 2004
    ...stock certificates found in decedent's house held not included in devise of house and "all contents"); In re Estate of Lamb, 445 Pa. 323, 285 A.2d 163, 164 (1971)(real property and "contents thereof" did not include savings and checking accounts, savings bank certificates, and uncashed chec......
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