White v. Snyder

Decision Date05 December 1914
Docket Number34.
Citation92 A. 763,124 Md. 395
PartiesWHITE v. SNYDER et al.
CourtMaryland Court of Appeals

Appeal from Baltimore City Court; James P. Gorter, Judge.

"To be officially reported."

Caveat by Alexander T. White to set aside the probate of the will of Ebeneezer T. White, deceased, against Martha E. Snyder and Forrest Bramble, executors. Judgment for defendants, and plaintiff appeals. Affirmed.

Argued before BOYD, C.J., and BURKE, THOMAS, PATTISON, URNER STOCKBRIDGE, and CONSTABLE, JJ.

William Colton, of Baltimore, for appellant. Forrest Bramble and Randolph Barton, Jr., both of Baltimore, for appellees.

URNER J.

The question to be determined on this appeal is whether the evidence in the record is legally sufficient to show that the will in controversy was procured by undue influence. There were other issues involving the validity of the will, but the only ruling we are asked to review refers to the question just indicated. A verdict was directed in favor of the defendants upon all the issues.

The testator was Ebeneezer T. White, a resident of Baltimore, who from an early age had been in the service of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Company, and at the time of his death was its superintendent of motive power. His will was executed in his of office at Camden Station in March, 1913. He was then 54 years of age. While his health at that period was beginning to fail, there was no impairment of his mental faculties, and he was in the active and regular performance of his responsible duties. During the following summer he was given a leave of absence, and, in company with two nieces, who were living with him at the time, made a visit to Europe. He returned with his health apparently much improved, but in September of the same year he was taken suddenly ill and died. Mr. White was never married. His nearest surviving relatives were a brother, Alexander T. White, the caveator who has been engaged for many years in the work of a mining prospector in the far West; three sisters, Mrs. Stephens residing in Virginia, Mrs. Spears in Pennsylvania, and Mrs. Weir in Indiana; a nephew and two nieces, children of a deceased brother, William White; and a nephew and five nieces, children of a deceased sister, Mrs. Snyder. The nephews and nieces are also nonresidents of Maryland, except two of Mrs. Snyder's daughters, Ella and Cora, who are unmarried and have been living in the home of their uncle, the testator, in Baltimore since 1907. The estate passing under the will is valued at approximately $62,000. There are bequests of $500 to Mrs. Stephens, $200 each to Mrs. Spears and Mrs. Weir, and $100 each to Daisy White, daughter of the deceased brother, William, and to the three married daughters of the deceased sister, Mrs. Snyder, after which there is a devise of the testator's home property, appraised at $2,000, to Ella Snyder, and the residue of the estate is given to his two nieces, Ella and Cora Snyder, in equal shares.

The testator's home in Baltimore was established about 1890, and from that time until 1905 he and his mother were its only occupants. In the latter year Mr. White's sister, Mrs. Stephens, came to the home with her family at his request in order to aid in caring for their mother, who had been injured by a fall. After the mother's death in 1906, Mrs. Stephens and her family continued to live with Mr. White until June, 1907, when he provided for them a home, to which they moved, in Winchester, Va. This change was made for the benefit of Mrs. Stephens' invalid husband and because they wished to be located where they could have sufficient ground for a garden and for raising poultry. The property was bought by Mr. White at a cost of $4,200 and was conveyed to his sister as a gift. Thereafter and until his death he contributed $400 each year towards her support. While Mrs. Stephens was preparing to remove from Baltimore, the question was discussed as to who should take her place in keeping house for her brother. It occurred to him that his niece, Ella Snyder, who was teaching school in West Virginia, might be willing to come, and he accordingly wrote her on the subject. His invitation was accepted by Miss Snyder upon condition that she be allowed time to finish some special work she had undertaken. This required about six weeks for its completion, and she then came, with her younger sister, to their uncle's home, where they have since remained.

It is insisted that the will under inquiry is grossly unjust and unnatural in its provisions, because it bestows so large a proportion of the estate upon the two nieces, and thus discriminates against other relatives who are said to have special claims to the testator's bounty. The charge of undue influence in the procurement of the will is directed against Miss Synder, and is sought to be supported by testimony to which we will presently refer.

After a careful study of the evidence as to the testator's situation with respect to those who might be considered in connection with the disposition of his estate, we are unable to see any such injustice in his will as would excite suspicion as to the circumstances under which it was executed. The two principal beneficiaries under the will are those in whom his interest was most completely centered. They were the children of his deceased sister and lived with him upon terms of the most intimate companionship, and they evidently held the same place in his affection as if they had been his own daughters. The brother who has filed the caveat is a bachelor with adequate sources of income, and it is not argued that he, or any of the other male relatives, had reason to expect any substantial recognition in the will. There is, moreover, no special complaint made of the testator's failure to provide more generously for his sister Mrs. Weir, and for his other nieces, as his relations with them had not been marked by any particular intimacy. But it is urged that, in bequeathing such relatively small amounts to his sisters Mrs. Stephens and Mrs. Spears, the will is conspicuously unjust.

It is in evidence that Mrs. Spears is an invalid and a widow, but she has four adult sons, whose ability to care for their mother may have been taken into consideration by the testator. The testimony shows that Mrs. Stephens, because of her husband's disability, was dependent for their support upon her own efforts. Her situation appears to have been fully appreciated by her brother, and his intention to provide for her appears from proof of his declarations to that effect. The purpose thus expressed was at least partially accomplished by the purchase of the home for Mrs. Stephens, and by the annual contribution for her support, to which we have referred. It may be that this liberality of Mr. White towards his sister in his lifetime, indicating as it did his realization of her circumstances, would give rise to a natural expectation of a larger bequest in her favor than the will actually contains. But it is apparent from the record that the testator's paramount concern was for the nieces he had taken into his home and whose presence there had cheered and brightened his life. It was his desire that they should be enabled to maintain after his death the home upon which, at his instance, they had become defendant, and he doubtless estimated that the income from the estate he was giving them by his will would be required for that purpose. The deep-seated affection and sense of obligation which prompted such a testamentary disposition would seem to be sufficient to relieve it of the imputation that it is unnatural or essentially unfair.

The evidence in the record does not in...

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