Miles v. Caples

CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
Writing for the CourtBefore TAURO; HENNESSEY; SPIEGEL
Citation284 N.E.2d 231,362 Mass. 107
PartiesFrankland W. L. MILES, administrator, v. Irene P. CAPLES.
Decision Date05 June 1972

Page 231

284 N.E.2d 231
362 Mass. 107
Frankland W. L. MILES, administrator,
Irene P. CAPLES.
Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk.
Argued March 8, 1972.
Decided June 5, 1972.

[362 Mass. 108]

Page 233

John F. Cremens, Boston, for respondent.

Lenahan O'Connell, Boston, for petitioner.

Before [362 Mass. 107] TAURO, C.J., and CUTTER, SPIEGEL, REARDON and HENNESSEY, JJ.

[362 Mass. 108] HENNESSEY, Justice.

In this petition in equity, the administrator with the will annexed of the estate of Bridget A. Curran (the testatrix) seeks to determine title to certain personal property. The petition alleged that certain shares of stock and certain bank accounts were placed in the joint names of the testatrix and her niece, the respondent, upon the express agreement that the respondent would hold the stock and the accounts in trust for the benefit of the testatrix. The judge entered a final decree stating that 'no express trust was created . . . (and) there was no completed gift to the Respondent by the (testatrix) of all or any part of said personal property,' and ordering the respondent to transfer such property, with interest and dividends, to the petitioner. In his report of material facts, the judge found 'a fraudulent pattern and plan whereby the Respondent, exercising undue influence on . . . (the testatrix) . . . successfully procured transfer of substantial personal property, constituting all of the assets of the . . . (testatrix), into the joint names of the . . . (testatrix) and the Respondent.'

On this appeal the respondent argues that the judge's final decree and several of his subsidiary findings were not warranted by the evidence and that the judge was wrong in failing to disqualify himself from hearing the matter. Since we have before us a report of material [362 Mass. 109] facts and a transcript of the evidence, all questions of law, fact and discretion are open for our decision. We can find facts not expressly found by the judge and, if convinced that he was plainly wrong, we can find facts contrary to his findings. Lowell Bar Assn. v. Loeb, 315 Mass. 176, 178, 52 N.E.2d 27 and cases cited.

We state the facts. The testatrix, a single woman, died on March 31, 1960, at the age of seventy-five. She had lived alone in the Brighton section of Boston. The respondent was one of the testatrix's seven nieces and nephews living at her death.

On March 31, 1959, the testatrix executed her will at an attorney's office. The instrument provided for four money legacies of $1,000 each to a sister-in-law, two cousins, and a priest, and bequeathed five cooperative bank shares to a nephew and a cemetery lot to another nephew. Finally, the will contained a residuary clause providing for equal division of the residue among six nieces and nephews, including the respondent, who was named executrix.

The attorney who prepared the will was also one of the attesting witnesses. He testified that he testatrix was mentally alert and well oriented, that she understood what she was doing and knew the value and substance of her property. The attorney

Page 234

testified that during a preliminary conference with the testatrix, and on the day that the will was executed, no relatives or other interested persons were present.

On April 1, 1959, the day after the will was executed, the respondent and her husband drove the testatrix to Estabrook & Co., Inc., a Boston stock brokerage firm. At that time, the testatrix transferred ownership of certain stock worth $21,690.50 from her name into the joint names of herself and the respondent. On April 15, 1959, the respondent and the testatrix went to the Cambridgeport Savings Bank, where the testatrix transferred an account containing approximately $4,226.77, and held in her sole name, into the joint names of herself and the respondent. The respondent testified that [362 Mass. 110] this transfer was a gift to her, that she closed the account on July 14, 1959, when it contained $4,261.11 and that she deposited the money in another joint account at the Brighton Five Cents Savings Bank (Brighton account) which will be referred to below.

On May 3, 1959, the testatrix was admitted to St. Elizabeth's Hospital after suffering a cerebral artery thrombosis. Her admission record noted that she was '(o)riented in place & situation but not time.' She remained there until June 26, 1959, when she was transferred to a nursing home. The hospital records indicate that on at least eighteen days of her hospitalization she was 'disoriented.' She died at the nursing home on March 31, 1960.

The remaining transfers of the testatrix's bank accounts occurred while she was confined to the hospital and the nursing home. On May 12, 1959, she singed the papers necessary to transfer the Brighton account into the joint names of herself and the respondent. The transfer was effectuated by the respondent at a time when there was $8,180.08 in the account. On home. On May 12, 1959, she signed necessary papers to close an account containing $853.96 at the Institution for Savings in Roxbury. The respondent closed the account and deposited the amount in the Brighton account.

The testatrix also owned a savings certificate in the Forest Hills Cooperative Bank. The evidence was disputed as to when she signed and gave this certificate to the respondent. The latter testified that in the fall of 1958 the testatrix signed the certificate in blank and gave it to her as a gift. The judge, however, disbelieved this testimony and found that in February, 1960, the testatrix signed the certificate and gave it to the respondent who deposited the proceeds in the Brighton Savings account. As of February 5, 1960, there was $20,553.52 on deposit in the Brighton account.

On June 23, 1961, a petition for administration of the testatrix's estate was filed by her sister. On August 10, 1961, the respondent filed the testatrix's will in the [362 Mass. 111] registry of probate. According to the testimony of the respondent, she found the will in a trunk belonging to the testatrix sometime during the summer of 1960 and, on the advice of counsel, did not file it until August, 1961. She also testified that the testatrix had on several occasions told her that she had destroyed the will. Although other witnesses corroborated this testimony, the judge found that the respondent 'fraudulently continued secret possession of her aunt's will' until it was filed in the registry. A petition for probate of the will was filed by the respondent on September 27, 1963, and allowed on March 25, 1964, at which time the petitioner was appointed administrator with the will annexed.

Finally, the judge found that from May, 1960, to February, 1967, the respondent gave sums of money to and obtained releases from seven individuals named in the testatrix's will. Five of the seven releases were obtained after the commencement of this litigation. The judge found that this action constituted 'consciousness of guilt' on the part of the respondent.

Page 235

1. At the outset we dispose of the respondent's argument that the judge was wrong in not disqualifying himself from the trial of this case. There is no validity to her argument that, solely by reason of the fact that the judge appointed the...

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