Sumter Trust Co. v. Holman

Decision Date15 April 1926
Docket Number11960.
Citation132 S.E. 811,134 S.C. 412
PartiesSUMTER TRUST CO. et al. v. HOLMAN.
CourtSouth Carolina Supreme Court

Cothran J., dissenting in part.

Appeal from Common Pleas Circuit Court of Sumter County; R. W Memminger, Judge.

Proceeding by the Sumter Trust Company, as executor and trustee under the last will and testament of Frank K. Holman, deceased, and others, to prove the will, opposed by Somers D. Holman contestant. From a decree sustaining the will, contestant appeals. Reversed.

The following are appellant's exceptions:

I. His honor erred, it is respectfully submitted, in having the following controversy with the witness T. H. Clarke in the presence of the jury:

The Court: How do you account for the second wife's flying into a rage when the first wife was mentioned?
The witness: I cannot account for it.
The Court: How do you expect the jury to believe that this second wife would go into a rage when his first wife was mentioned?
The witness: I don't know, your honor, but such is the case.
The Court: How do you expect me to believe it. That evidence is before me as well as the jury, you know."

It is respectfully submitted: (a) That the above-quoted questions of the trial judge amounted to a comment upon the evidence whereas, the appellant had a right to have her case submitted to the jury without any impressions conveyed to their minds as to the opinion of the trial judge of any testimony given in the case. (b) The said comments of the trial judge, Mr. Clarke being a gentleman of high standing in the community, tended to prejudice the jury in his favor and likely to affect the verdict through the desire of the jury to vindicate Mr. Clarke.

II. His honor erred, it is respectfully submitted, in saying to the jury: "I understand that the witness Clarke is one of the best citizens of the town, but the judge did not know that." This being error, it is respectfully submitted, because the judge, under the law, had no right to give this testimony in behalf of a witness who had testified against the appellant, and the same amounted to a charge as to the weight which the jury should give to the testimony of this witness. The respondents themselves would have no right to introduce testimony as to the character and standing of the witness Clarke, unless the same had been attacked, and we respectfully submit the trial judge had no right to do so.

III. His honor erred, it is respectfully submitted, in reading to the jury, as he did, from the case of Matheson v. Matheson, and in telling them that they would find the answer to the question that they would have to decide in the Matheson Case. This being error, it is respectfully submitted: (a) The present case, in order to be decided aright, would have to be decided upon the facts of this case, and not upon the facts which were proved in the Matheson Case. (b) It was error for his honor to read to the jury the charge of the trial judge in the Matheson Case, which was necessarily based upon the questions at issue in that case, and tell the jury that the said charge was applicable to the present case, which was based upon an entirely different proposition. In the Matheson Case the testator omitted the name of one of his sons, and the main question was: Did he omit that name on purpose, or was his mind in such condition that he forgot about this son entirely? Whereas, in the present case the issue was: Did the testator have such an insane delusion against his wife that the same injuriously affected the provision that was made for her? There was no question as to whether he remembered his wife, because he referred to her several times in the will. (c) In that in reading from said charge, his honor repeatedly told the jury, in effect, that if the testator remembered those he was leaving out of the will, and did it on purpose, the will would be valid; whereas, this was not good law in the present case, where the question of insane delusion injuriously affecting the provision made for the wife was at issue. (d) In thus reading from the judge's charge in the Matheson Case, his honor charged the jury that they would have to find that Holman did not know what he was doing when he wrote the will; did not know the effect of what he was doing; did not know the property he was trying to dispose of, and those to whom he intended to leave his estate. This being error, because, under the law, if the testator was laboring under an insane delusion which would prejudice him against his wife so that he materially cut down the provision that he would otherwise have made for her, the will would be invalid, even though he did comprehend the nature and effect of what he was doing, even though he did know the property he was disposing of, and even though he did know to whom he intended to leave his estate, and even though he did do it on purpose.

IV. His honor erred, it is respectfully submitted, in charging the jury as follows: "I charge you that mere weakness of mind or feebleness of mind is not enough to invalidate a will; incapacity is more than that. Before you can find incapacity, you must be satisfied by the preponderance of the evidence that he did not know what he was doing when he made that will; that he did not have intelligence enough to comprehend the nature and effect of what he was doing; that he did not know the property he was trying to dispose of, and the objects of his bounty, those to whom he intended to leave his property; and you must be satisfied of that before you can find that Holman did not have mental capacity to make a will. Unless the contestant can show that he did not have that capacity-the burden of proof being upon them to prove that by the greater weight of the testimony-then the will stands." The error being that in the present case the will was being contested on the ground that the testator was laboring under an insane delusion against his wife which affected the provision made for her; and where a will is being contested upon this ground, it is not correct to charge the jury that the will was valid if the testator knew the effect of what he was doing, knew the property he was disposing of, and knew those to whom he intended to leave it.

V. His honor erred, it is respectfully submitted, in charging the jury as follows: "Now, you see, gentlemen, it has come down to a very narrow compass: 'At the time that the late Frank K. Holman executed the instrument in writing which purports to be his last will and testament, did he then have sufficient mental capacity to make a will?' Now, what is sufficient mental capacity to make a will? That is stated to you in this case which I have read; I have read it twice, and no doubt you understand it." The error being that his honor thus charged the jury that they should consider the charge of the court made in the Matheson Case as applicable to the facts in the present case; whereas, the said charge was not applicable, because in the Matheson Case the question at issue was whether or not a father had omitted to make a provision for his son on purpose, or whether it was done through mental infirmity, and the issue in the present case was entirely different, and was whether or not the testator was laboring under an insane delusion against his wife at the time he made his will, making certain provision for her.

VI. His honor erred, it is respectfully submitted, in charging the jury the second request of the proponents as follows: "If, at the time that Dr. Holman signed the paper purporting to be his will, he knew his property and the persons whom he desired to have it, he could make a valid will." The error being that this is not good law where a will is being contested on the ground of insane delusion. A person with an insane delusion against his wife might know his property and might know the persons whom he desired should have his property, and still the will might be invalid, because an insane delusion made him desire to leave his property to some one other than his wife; whereas, if he were not laboring under an insane delusion he might have made his wife a beneficiary, or a beneficiary to a larger extent than the will provides.

VII. His honor erred, it is respectfully submitted, in charging the sixth request submitted by the proponents: "The jury is charged that they are not concerned with the provisions of the will or the division of the property therein made; but that they are only to consider and determine whether the testator, at the time the will was executed, was of sufficient mental capacity to execute the will." It is respectfully submitted that the jury in the present case were concerned with the provisions made for the widow in the will, and as to what proportions of the property she obtained under the will, because it was within the province of the jury to determine whether or not this affected the provisions he made for his wife. They could not do this without concerning themselves with the provisions of the will and the division of the property therein made.

VIII. His honor erred, it is respectfully submitted, in refusing the following request made by Mr. Epps, of counsel for the contestant:

"Mr. Epps: I would like for your honor to charge the jury in connection with what your honor read from the Matheson Case: The question there was, the old man had forgotten one of his children. Suppose a man thought he had an illegitimate child, and in the provision he made for the child, he was laboring under an insane delusion, even if he remembered the child, but was influenced by an insane delusion, the will would be invalid. We ask your honor to charge the jury in connection with that, if they should find-of course the burden is upon us to show-he was laboring under an insane delusion, if they find that
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  • Key v. Carolina & N.W. Ry. Co.
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    ... ...          As ... pointed out in many cases, and lately in Sumter Trust Co ... v. Holman, 134 S.C. 412, 132 S.E. 811, 814, "The ... whole charge must be ... ...
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