Teegarden v. Lewis

Decision Date04 June 1895
Docket Number16,698
Citation40 N.E. 1047,145 Ind. 98
PartiesTeegarden et ux. v. Lewis, Administrator
CourtIndiana Supreme Court

Rehearing Denied May 15, 1896, Reported at: 145 Ind. 98 at 118.

From the Parke Circuit Court.

Affirmed in part and Reversed in part.

Rice & Johnson, and McCabe & Bingham, for appellants.

W. T Whittington, and Kennedy & Kennedy, for appellee.

Hackney J. McCabe, J., did not participate in this case.


Hackney, J.

The question for decision in this case arises upon a special verdict, and involves the right of the appellants to retain, as against the appellee, moneys held by them as gifts from the appellee's intestate.

It was found that the appellants, jointly, had received $ 4,774.00, and that said John R. Teegarden had received to his separate use $ 4,093.00. In each instance, where it is found that the appellants received money from the intestate, it is also found that the intestate "was of unsound mind." For the appellants, it is insisted that the special verdict, in finding that the intestate "was of unsound mind," stated a conclusion of law, or of mixed law and facts, and failed to state the ultimate facts, upon which the court could apply the proper legal conclusions and render judgment. For the appellee, it is contended that the finding quoted is a finding of the ultimate facts only. There is little, if any, room to doubt that if the intestate did not possess mental capacity sufficient either to execute a valid will or a valid contract, the gifts were voidable and the appellants must be held to have received the moneys to the use and benefit of the intestate, and that it may be recovered by the appellee. Jenners v. Howard, Admr., 6 Blackf. 240; McQueen v. Bank, 2 Ind. 413; Ferguson v. Dunn's Admr., 28 Ind. 58; Musselman v. Cravens, 47 Ind. 1; McFadden v. Wilson, 96 Ind. 253; Moore v. Shields, 121 Ind. 267, 23 N.E. 89; Bullard v. Hascall, 25 Mich. 132; Mason v. Waite, 17 Mass. 560.

Some authorities hold that the test of mental capacity to be applied to a completed gift is the same as that to be applied to any other contract, and not that of testamentary capacity. 2 Schouler Per. Prop., sections 59, 141; 8 Am. and Eng. Ency. of Law, 1309. The reason given for this rule is that there are necessarily two parties, and the transaction involves the assent of two minds, while in the execution of a will there is but one active party, with opportunity for reflection apart from the beneficiary and free from his influences. A gift inter vivos differs from a bestowal by will, only as it does from gifts causa mortis, it is not made in contemplation of or to be effective upon the death of the donor. If inducements or influences, from the donee, to make the gift, should be considered in determining the test of mental capacity, we are unable to discern why the same inducements and influences might not obtain in the execution of a will as of a gift. Either is like the other, in that the donor receives no recompense or equivalent for that which he gives. We do not deny that when completed, the effects of the gift are the same as if the object had been parted with by contract. Yet the effect is no less so when possession is reached through the provisions of a will. Why the standard of intellect in either should be higher than the other, has not been demonstrated. With deference to the authorities cited, it is our judgment that the capacity to execute a will is the perfect requisite for the execution of a gift inter vivos.

However, we may test the present verdict by either rule and the same results must be reached, as we view the question. The mental requisites for the support of ordinary contracts have not been so frequently or so clearly defined as those for the execution of testamentary provisions, yet there is an undoubted distinction which has been recognized by the holdings in this State. In ordinary contracts the test is, were the mental faculties so deficient or impaired that there was not sufficient power to comprehend the subject of the contract, its nature and its probable consequences, and to act with discretion in relation thereto, or with relation to the ordinary affairs of life. Somers v. Pumphrey, 24 Ind. 231; Darnell v. Rowland, 30 Ind. 342; Dennett v. Dennett, Ewell's Lead. Cas. 547 N. 558, and Clark Cont. p. 263.

Testamentary capacity is determined upon the inquiry: Did the testator possess sufficient strength of mind and memory to know the extent and value of his property, the number and names of those who were the natural objects of his bounty, their deserts with reference to their conduct and treatment towards him, their capacity and necessity, and did he have sufficient active memory to retain all these facts in mind long enough to have his will prepared and executed? Burkhart v. Gladish, 123 Ind. 337, 24 N.E. 118; Harrison v. Bishop, 131 Ind. 161, 30 N.E. 1069; Fiscus v. Turner, 125 Ind. 46, 24 N.E. 662; Lowder v. Lowder, 58 Ind. 538.

We do not so much seek to ascertain the existing distinction and to define it, as to establish the conclusion that mental capacity is susceptible of ascertainment and expression as a fact, unembarrassed by legal conclusions. Whatever the test, we think it clear that its existence, or non-existence, may be found and stated as a question of fact. That special verdicts should find the facts, and should not state conclusions of law, is not doubted or questioned, but the contention here, as we have said, is as to whether the finding that the intestate "was of unsound mind" is a statement of fact, or involves a conclusion of law, and invades the province of the court. Our statute, R. S. 1894, section 2726 (R. S. 1881, section 2556), withholds from persons of unsound mind the power to make a testamentary disposition of property, while it is provided by section 2724, R. S. 1894 (section 2554, R. S. 1881), that "Every contract, sale or conveyance, of any person while of unsound mind, shall be void." By judicial construction, the latter section has been held to mean that such contracts shall be void, if executed by those adjudged to be of unsound mind, and voidable only, if executed by those who are unsound but not so adjudged. Boyer v. Berryman, 123 Ind. 451, 24 N.E. 249; Copenrath v. Kienby, 83 Ind. 18; Fay v. Burditt, 81 Ind. 433; McClain, Gdn., v. Davis, 77 Ind. 419; Freed v. Brown, 55 Ind. 310; Nichol v. Thomas, 53 Ind. 42; Somers v. Pumphrey, supra; Musselman v. Cravens, supra; Redden v. Baker, Gdn., 86 Ind. 191; Davis v. Scott, 34 Ind. 67.

By section 2714, R. S. 1894 (section 2544, R. S. 1881), the phrase "unsound mind," it is declared, "shall be taken to mean any idiot, non compos, lunatic, monomaniac, or distracted person." Yet, it has been settled that one who is of unsound mind, suffering from delusions or being a monomaniac, may make a valid contract or a will, if such malady do not enter into or control, to some extent, the execution thereof. Wray v. Wray, 32 Ind. 126; Durham v. Smith, 120 Ind. 463, 22 N.E. 333; Burkhart v. Gladdish, supra; Harrison v. Bishop, supra; Lowder v. Lowder, supra; Kenworthy v. Williams, 5 Ind. 375; Clark Cont., p. 266.

In Wray v. Wray, supra, the lower court instructed the jury that "it is not necessary to prove the grantor totally insane, that is, of unsound mind as to all subjects; a man may be sane upon some subjects, and of unsound mind upon others. He may be sane upon all other subjects, and yet afflicted with a delusion upon one which would amount to insanity as to that one." This court said of that instruction: "One who seeks to set aside a contract on the ground of insanity must show that it was the offspring of mental disease," and held the instruction to have been correct.

In Durham v. Smith, supra, an instruction was as follows: "Furthermore, I instruct you that a person who is of unsound mind is incapable of making a valid will, and if there is unsoundness of mind, it is not necessary for the contestant to show that such unsoundness had anything to do with the manner of disposing of the property. In such a case the will is invalid, whether it is shown that the unsoundness of mind had, or had not, affected the character of the testament." The instruction was condemned, upon the last proposition therein stated, and it was held that the words "unsound mind," used in the instruction, were used "in their broadest sense, including every species of defectiveness and impairment of the mind." It was said, further, of the instruction: "In short, this charge recognizes but two conditions of the human mind, one sound and capable of doing all acts, and the other unsound and incapable of doing any act; that a person is responsible for all his acts, or not responsible for any of his acts. This is an erroneous theory of the law. Trumbull v. Gibbons, 51 Am. Dec. 253; Clark v. Fisher, 19 Am. Dec. 402; Jackson v. King, 15 Am. Dec. 354, and note. 363."

Some of the cases speak of that defective or impaired condition of mind, which will not avoid a will or contract, as partial unsoundness of mind. Such partial unsoundness of mind, as recognized by the law and as stated in the cases we have cited, if it enter into and control the execution of the will or contract so that the will or the contract may be said to be the offspring of such imperfect or impaired condition will be held, under the statutes quoted above, to invalidate such will or contract. In other words, partial insanity is an unsoundness of mind which is within the statutory declaration, if it controls the execution of the contract against the rational will and judgment of the party. If it do not so control, while nevertheless the condition is that of unsound mind, the instrument or act is valid. We are lead, therefore, to the conclusion that the jury might,...

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2 cases
  • Sanders v. Townsend
    • United States
    • Indiana Appellate Court
    • June 29, 1987
    ...is constructively fraudulent and hence may be impeached between persons sustaining the relationship." See also Teegarden v. Lewis (1895), 145 Ind. 98, 40 N.E. 1047, 44 N.E. 9. And in Hall v. Department of State Revenue (1976), 170 Ind.App. 77, 351 N.E.2d 35 the Court quoted with approval th......
  • Lewis v. Teegarden
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court
    • June 4, 1895

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