Page v. Phelps

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Citation108 Conn. 572,143 A. 890
Decision Date18 December 1928

143 A. 890

108 Conn. 572


Supreme Court of Errors of Connecticut.

December 18, 1928

Appeal from Superior Court, Middlesex County; Edward M. Yeomans, Judge.

Proceedings by George Nelson Phelps and others, as executors, for the probate of the will of Philip Sumner Page, late of East Haddam, deceased, contested by Frederick A. Page. Judgment for proponents on appeal from the court of probate, and contestant appeals. Error, and a new trial ordered. [143 A. 891]

The plaintiff claimed to have proved these facts:

Philip Sumner Page, a native of Boston, died unmarried, a resident of East Haddam, on March 28, 1927, aged 35, leaving a will and an estate of approximately $200,000, and as his next of kin and sole heir at law his uncle, Frederick A. Page of Framingham, Mass., the appellant

The principal beneficiaries under the will and the amounts given them are:

George N. Phelps of East Haddam, a second cousin of the testator, $25,000 in cash and the income during the life of a " third cousin" of three-fourths of the residue, and after her death the income from the whole of the residue of the estate, amounting to over $100,000.

Mrs. Victoria Daniels of East Haddam, widow of Frank L. Daniels, a deceased second cousin, $20,000 in cash.

Miss Emma Page, a third cousin, $25,000 in cash, the net income from one-fourth of the residue, and $25,000 more in cash upon the death of George N. Phelps, if she should survive him. After the termination of the life estates, the residue to Harvard College, five-eighths, and one-eighth each to Trinity College [108 Conn. 575] fraternity, the Second Church in Boston, and an animal hospital in Boston.

Frederick A. Page and the testator were on very friendly terms, and so continued at the date of the will, and as long as Philip lived. He is the sole surviving brother of Philip's father, Francis E. Page, who died in November, 1924, leaving to him his entire estate.

Philip's mother died when he was nine years old. He was brought up in luxury, attended Trinity and Harvard Colleges, graduating from the latter at 24. Prior to going to college he became intemperate and dissipated, and so continued until his death; as a result of his habits, his mental and bodily strength was greatly weakened and his health impaired. He never had any remunerative [108 Conn. 576] occupation, except that for a short time he was employed in his father's lumber yard, and drove an ambulance and served as an aviation inspector during the World War.

His Aunt Annie at her death in 1917 gave $10,000 of her estate absolutely to George N. Phelps, and the residue, $30,000, to him and Francis E. Page in trust to pay the income from the same to Philip S. Page, who was then 25 years old, for life, and if he should die without issue, the remainder to George N. Phelps absolutely.

George N. Phelps accepted the trusteeship, and was the active manager of the trust at the date of Philip's will and during his life. In April, 1923, Philip gave up his home in Boston and went to live with his trustee George N. Phelps and Mrs. Daniels, and continued to make his home there for the rest of his life.

Under a business arrangement between Phelps, Mrs. Daniels, and Philip, Mrs. Daniels owned and furnished the homestead, Philip furnished the money to meet the expenses of the home and he also owned an addition to the homestead, while Phelps, having no other occupation, managed the trust from the estate of the testator's Aunt Annie for Philip's benefit, and from January 2, 1925, to Philip's death, he also managed the trust estate that came from his father.

On November 7, 1924, immediately after his father's will was probated, Philip wrote his Uncle Fred, the appellant, " I trust, Uncle Fred, that in the near future I may have the opportunity of lightening your burden in your old age." On January 2, 1925, Philip, then 32 years of age, assigned all his interest in his father's estate amounting to about $200,000, in trust to George N. Phelps and Phelp's personal attorney, William A. Quigley of Boston, to pay over the income therefrom to Philip for his life. Phelps and Quigley accepted the trust, and continued as trustees as long as Philip lived, and Phelps was the active trustee in the investment and management of, and the disbursement of the income from, the trust property. In the indenture of trust, Phelps reserved the right to revoke the trust during his own life and after the death of Phelps, but not during Phelps' life.

The will of Philip was drawn by Mr. Quigley in Boston after a personal visit by him to the homestead in East Haddam, and was [143 A. 892] executed in Mr. Quigley's office in Boston; Phelps not being present at the execution, but being in an adjoining room.

The plaintiff claimed: That for at least ten years prior to Philip's death Phelps had been in a fiduciary relation to Philip, and had personally managed the principal sources of his income; that during his residence at the homestead a relation of special confidence and trust existed between him and Phelps and Mrs. Daniels, who are chief beneficiaries under Philip's will, but are not heirs or near relatives, and take to the exclusion of the natural objects of the testator's bounty, and that by reason of Philip's habits and the [108 Conn. 577] weakened and enfeebled condition of his mind and body, and by reason of the great influence exerted upon him by Phelps and Mrs. Daniels, in consequence of their close association with him and their management of, and fiduciary relation to, his property interests and affairs, Philip was induced to execute his will without any adequate knowledge of its contents, and without realizing that his sole heir at law was by it excluded from participating in his estate.

The appellees offered evidence to prove these facts:

The mother of Philip was first cousin of George N. Phelps, and, upon her marriage to Philip's father, they resided in the Phelps homestead with George N. Phelps and Annie M. Phelps. After the birth of Philip, his mother purchased a home in Brookline, Mass., where she and her husband and George N. and Annie M. Phelps lived in this home until the mother of Philip died, and thereafter the other residents in the home lived therein with Philip until 1908, when George N. Phelps took up his residence in East Haddam, Conn., with Mrs. Daniels and her husband, where he has since lived. During this period Philip and George N. Phelps became much attached to each other; Philip calling him Uncle George.

Philip, while at Trinity in 1910, visited George N. Phelps and Mrs. Daniels at East Haddam very frequently.

In 1917, after graduating from Harvard, Philip enlisted in the French Army, and served until the spring of 1918, and before leaving he visited George N. Phelps and Mrs. Daniels at East Haddam for a few days.

In the spring of 1918, Philip returned to this country and entered the Naval Aviation Corps, and, while on leave, spent at least one furlough with Phelps and Mrs. Daniels. After his honorable discharge in the fall of 1919, he stayed in New York until the spring [108 Conn. 578] of 1920, then returned to Brookline and lived with his father. In this period, he and his father on several occasions visited Mrs. Daniels and Phelps, and on many occasions was with Phelps in Boston.

In April, 1923, upon his earnest request, Mrs. Daniels permitted him. to become a member of her household; he so continued until his death. After January, 1926, under a definite arrangement, Philip paid the running expenses of the household. His father visited him frequently in East Haddam, and in September, 1924, was taken ill there and was nursed by Mrs. Daniels and Phelps for about four weeks, and then cared for at the hospital where he was visited daily by Phelps, Mrs. Daniels, and Philip.

During the years Philip was at East Haddam, he was frequently accompanied to New York, and occasionally to Boston, by Phelps. In January, 1925, when Philip was in the West Indies, he hurried home to get back to Phelps, who was in the hospital, and visited him there every day. In August, 1925, Philip went to Europe for two months, taking Phelps with him.

In 1920, he made a voluntary trust of the $40,000 from his mother's estate, and named his father Francis E. Page and George N. Phelps as the trustees. The trust was drawn by Mr. Quigley, who was a friend and the attorney of the father and family of many years standing. The property was kept in Boston under the active management of Francis E. Page, George N. Phelps taking little or no part in the active management.

Philip revoked this trust on the death of his father, and continued to hold and manage this property until his death.

Annie M. Phelps, the aunt of Philip, died in 1917, leaving the residue of her estate to George N. Phelps and...

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