Vineyard v. Vineyard

Decision Date30 December 1966
Docket NumberNo. 51965,No. 1,51965,1
PartiesT. W. VINEYARD, Guardian of the Person and Estate of Sarah Margaret Vineyard, Appellant, v. Steve VINEYARD et al., Respondents
CourtMissouri Supreme Court

Ronald J. Fuller, Rolla, for appellant.

Claude T. Wood, Richland, for respondents.

HOLMAN, Presiding Judge.

On October 4, 1963, Sarah Margaret Vineyard (hereinafter called Margaret) executed five warranty deeds by which she conveyed to certain of her relatives the five separate parcels of real estate owned by her. She reserved a life estate in each of those properties. Margaret was adjudged incompetent on October 22, 1964, and a brother, T. W. Vineyard, was appointed her guardian. The guardian thereafter filed this suit in which he sought to set aside three of the aforementioned deeds, alleging that Margaret executed the deeds as the result of undue influence exercised by defendants at a time when she did not have sufficient mental capacity to make said deeds. A trial resulted in a judgment for defendants and plaintiff duly appealed. Prior to the submission in this court Margaret died, and appropriate parties have been substituted as plaintiffs-appellants in place of the guardian. We will continue to refer to the guardian as plaintiff.

The five deeds executed by Margaret all conveyed property in or near Dixon, Missouri. In the three deeds here involved, 'the home place' was conveyed to her niece, Myrtle Williams and husband Virgil, the 'Raines house' to her nephew Charles Vineyard and his wife Grace, and the 'flat-top house' to her brother Steve Vineyard and his wife Belle. At the same time, the 'apartment house' was conveyed to her brother Jesse and his wife Edna, and the 'acreage land' to her brother, plaitniff T. W. Vineyard. This suit did not seek to set aside the deeds to Jesse and T. W.

Margaret was born and reared on a farm located about ten miles northeast of Dixon. She never married. She was 75 years old at the time the deeds were made. She lived at home with her mother until 1924 when her mother was drowned in a ferrboat accident. Shortly after her mother's death Margaret went to St. Louis where for 22 years she worked as a cook in homes of wealthy people. In 1946 the wife of her brother George Vineyard died, and at George's request, she came back to Dixon to keep house for him. They lived on George's farm until 1956. At that time George sold the farm and built a new home in Dixon and they moved there. George died on April 10, 1963, and left the bulk of his estate to Margaret, including the five pieces of property she conveyed on October 4, 1963. Her brother Jesse was the administrator w.w.a. of George's estate. In June 1963, Margaret fell and sustained severe injuries to a knee. She was taken to Phelps County Memorial Hospital at Rolla where she remained until July 17, and was then admitted to the McFarland Nursing Home in Rolla where she remained until October 5, 1963.

After she returned home Margaret's niece, Myrtlke Williams, and her husband, lived with her for 70 days. Thereafter various relatives and others stayed with her from time to time, and sometime later she re-entered the nursing home where she was residing at the time of the trial.

In order to prove the facts surrounding the making of the deeds plaintiff called defendant Charlie Vineyard, Margaret's nephew, as his first witness. Charlie testified that Margaret had mentioned to him a number of times that she wanted to make deeds to her real estate; that at her request he went to the recorder's office in Waynesville and had the recorder copy the description of each of the five pieces of property on a paper, and he delivered this paper to Margaret; that when he went back later she had written on the paper the names of the persons to whom she wanted to deed each of the properties, and had also written directions for her will on another piece of paper; that she requested that he have someone prepare the deeds and will because she wanted to have that business taken care of before she left the nursing home as there was no one in Dixon who could prepare those instruments; that he went to Attorney E. E. Northern in Rolla and employed him to prepare the papers; that a few days later, October 4, he, Myrtle, and Virgil met Mr. Northern at Margaret's room in the nursing home; that after the papers were executed Margaret delivered the deeds to him and he took them to Waynesville that afternoon and had them recorded because Mr. Northern had advised that they be recorded at once. He testified on cross-examination that Margaret's home in Dixon was just across the alley from his home; that his sister Myrtle lived nearby and they frequently helped Margaret with her household duties. He stated that none of them ever tried to persuade Margaret to make the deeds; that it was entirely her idea; that in his opinion she was mentally competent at the time the deeds were executed.

The papers mentioned in Charlie's testimony were admitted as exhibits at the trial. They show that Margaret wrote the name of the persons who were subsequently the grantees below each description that had been obtained from the recorder and signed her name thereunder. The directions for her will were written in her handwriting on another sheet of paper in the following language: 'After all my funeral expense and bills are paid in full I want all of my cash to be divided equally among all my brothers--Steve, Jesse, Tom Vineyard. I also want Myrtle Williams to have all of my personal belongings and household fruniture that is left in my home at the time of my death. I request that Charley Vineyard be the administrator. (signed) Margaret Vineyard.'

Plaintiff presented the testimony of a number of witnesses relating to Margaret's mental capacity at or near the time the deeds were executed.

Dr. Earl Feind testified that he was one of the three doctors who attended the patients at the nursing home; that the record indicated that Margaret was senile and was forgetful and would become confused; that he saw her a number of tims, including (according to the record) October 4, 1963, and when asked his opinion as to her mental capacity he said he doubted if she had the capacity to know her interest in property and to understand her act in executing a deed. However, on cross-examination he testified that Margaret was rational at times and that her mental condition would change and you 'couldn't tell her state of mind from hour to hour.'

Plaintiff also offered as a witness Barbara Clancy, a registered nurse, who was a supervisor at the nursing home. She testified that Margaret was always depressed and couldn't carry on conversations with her; that sh whispered to her that things were being stolen from her room, although the witness thought nothing was missing; that she would take linens from the linen cart; that Margaret had a toilet in her room, but when she went down the hall to the bathroom to take a bath she would always take her purse and sometimes some paper bags; that she would pour her fresh water into the toilet and then complain that she hadn't received any drinking water; that on one occasion Margaret asked her if she had canned that bushel of peaches she had given her, but that the only peaches Margaret had received were three or four that someone brought to her in a sack; that she saw her on the early morning of October 4; that later someone advised her that they wanted her to witness some papers in Margaret's room but that she refused to do so; that she was of the opinion that Margaret was of unsound mind although she didn't know her exact condition at the time the deeds were signed.

Freda Campbell, a nurse's aid at the nursing home, testified that Margaret couldn't carry on a clear conversation; that she always kept her purse with her and had a bell in it which would jingle when someone moved it; that she protested when Margaret took linens off the cart but Margaret said she needed them. As will hereinafter appear, the court sustained an objection to the qualifications of this witness to express an opinion on Margaret's mental condition.

Another nurse's aid, Mrs. Jo Hudgens, gave testimony somewhat similar to Mrs. Campbell's and was likewise not permitted to express an opinion on Margaret's mental condition.

Plaintiff Tom Vineyard, a brother of Margaret, testified that Margaret had 32 nieces and nephews, 24 of whom, because of the death of a parent, were her heirs. He stated that he had lived most of his life in Iowa but usually came back to Dixon once a year to visit; that he commenced to notice a change in Margaret after 1950; that he came back and visited her often while she was in the hospital and nursing home in 1963; that he returned to Iowa early in October and did not know about the deeds until someone sent him a clipping from the paper; that Margaret's conversation 'wandered'; that while in the nursing home she complained of seeing various individuals in her room who were not there and said that two negroes were trying to get into her dresser. He expressed the opinion that she was not of sound mind on October 4, 1963. He further stated that he moved back to Dixon on December 6, 1963, and that Margaret told him, in regard to the deeds, 'I've done wrong and I want you to break it up.' On cross-examination he testified that when he came back from Iowa he 'wanted to get something started,' and had himself appointed as guardian so he 'could bring this suit.'

Prior to the trial Margaret's brother Jesse died, but his widow Edna testified. She gave instances of Margaret's forgetfulness and confusion dating back to 1956. She stated that after George died Margaret kept a club by the window because she thought someone had tried to break in her home; that when she thought someone was trying to break in she would pop sacks so they would think she had a gun; that when Margaret was in the hospital she said she could see a cornfield out the window,...

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