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Trautman et al. v Mohn.
Federal Courts -Decedents Estate Administration—Situs of Property,
Under the Act of Congress, approved February 22, 1917 (U. S. StatutesAt-Large, vol. 39, p. 929), separate suits in equity, begun by bills of interpleader, were filed by the plaintiffs against the executors in Pennsylvania of the will, and the administratrix in California, with the will annexed.
The personal representatives being in two states, each claiming the proceeds of two life insurance policies, the proceeds were paid to the clerk of the court in the jurisdiction where the greater part of the estate was located and the two causes consolidated. The issue as to which claimant was entitled to the fund was thus joined. The executors as interpleader plaintiffs, filed their statement, and the administratrix as interpleader defendant made answer.
Letters of administration have no extra territorial force, convey no authority whatever outside of the state of his appointment, and in the absence of statute, any recognition which he may receive outside the jurisdiction of his appointment, is due solely to the principle of comity which any state may extend or withhold at its pleasure.
A Federal court has no jurisdiction over the distribution of the funds in a decedent's estate. Every state has exclusive jurisdiction and sovereignty over persons and property within its territory by its own proper court, but on a question as to whether executors in a state where the principal part of the estate was located and the administrator in the state of decedent's domocile it was held that the executor's right to administer the estate had priority.
Decree. Nos. 171-172 November Term, 1917. District Court of the United States for the Western District of Pennsylvania.
A. M. Imbrie, for executors in Pennsylvania.
THOMSON, J., September 10, 1920.—Under the Act of Congress, approved February 22, 1917, (U. S. Statutes-At-Large, vol. 39, p. 929), separate suits in equity, begun by bills of interpleader, were filed by the plaintiffs against the executors in Pennsylvania of the will, and the administratrix in California, with the will annexed, of George Mohn, Jr., deceased. The personal representatives being in two states, each claiming the proceeds of the two life insurance policies, the proceeds were paid to the clerk of this court. It appearing by the bill that the adverse claimants were residents of different states, and that one of them, namely the executors, resided within the jurisdiction of this Court, the bill was entertained, both claimants made answer, a decree was entered discharging the companies from further liability on their respective policies, and the defendants required to interplead between themselves their respective claims to the fund. In this issue the executors as interpleader plaintiffs, filed their statement, the administratrix as interpleader defendant made answer, and thus the conflicting claims are before the Court.
The material facts are these: The testator at the time of his death on January 24, 1917, and for several years prior thereto, was a resident of Los Angeles, California. His will which was executed in Pittsburgh, in 1914, where he then resided, appointed the plaintiffs as executors and two of them as trustees with active trusts. A day or so after the testator's death the will was read in the presence of the widow and members of the family, a copy was given to the widow, and it was then agreed among them that the will should be mailed to Mr. Trautman at Pittsburgh, for probate. This was done, and on February 16, 1917, the will duly admitted to probate by the Register of Wills of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, and letters testamentary issued to the plaintiffs as On April 5, 1917, decedent's widow, the defendant, began proceedings in the Superior Court of the County of Los Angeles, California, and on September 4, 1917, the will was admitted to probate and letters of administration with the will annexed, were issued thereon to the plaintiff. At the time of the death, the
Trautman et al. V Mohn.
principal part of the estate, consisting of both real and personal property, was valued in the inventory filed at over ninety thousand ($90,000) dollars, there being no other assets in the state. Here also, were certain creditors whose claims aggregating perhaps forty thousand dollars, were reduced to judgment in the Allegheny County courts. There were also quite a number of creditors in California, and certain assets there amounting to a few hundred dollars. The United States is demanding payment of the inheritance tax both in Allegheny County and in California. No proceedings were instituted in Allegheny County to have the probate of the will set aside until after the filing of the bills of inter. pleader. About a year after the probate, an appeal was taken by the defendants here, which appeal in January, 1919, was dismissed by the Court from which decree no appeal has been taken. The policies in question were made payable at the home office of the respective companies, the one in Chicago and the other in Springfield, Massachusetts, and payment to the clerk of this court was made in each case from the home office.
Under these facts, which claimant is entitled to the fund? We are not at all concerned with, nor has the Court jurisdiction over the distribution of the fund. That is the province of the proper court in the administration of the estate.
The sixth section of the Pennsylvania Act of March 15, 1832, sets forth the method of issuing letters testamentary or of administration as follows:
“Letters testamentary and of administration shall be grantable only by the register of the county within which was the family or principal residence of the decedent at the time of his decease, and if the decedent had no such residence in this commonwealth, then by the register of the county where the principal part of the goods or estate of such decedent shall be. No letters testamentary or of administration or otherwise purporting to authorize any person to intermeddle with the estate of decedent, which may be granted out of this commonwealth, shall confer upon such person any of the powers and authorities possessed by an executor or administrator under letters granted within the state."
The Act also provides for an appeal from the register's decision to the Orphans' Court
In this proceeding we are bound to presume, and the fact undoubtedly is, that both probates were legal and valid. The one where the principal part of the estate was found, the other in the jurisdiction of the decedent's domicile. Both were judicial acts of the proper officer of the respective states; neither could be attacked collaterally, and both are binding on all the world until annulled by a direct attack in the manner provided by the statutes of the state.
Ziegler v Storey, 220 Pa., 471.
Whether the letters granted to the executors, in Pennsylvania, are to be treated as original or ancillary, it is their duty to take into their possession all property of the testator in Pennsylvania, primarily for the payment of all Pennsylvania creditors. While it is a rule of the common law that the personal estate of an intestate has a situs at his domicile and subject to be administered according to the law of the domicile, this rule a state may adapt, modify or reject, as it may deem proper.
As was said in Baker, administrator v Baker-Eckels Co., 242 U. S., 394 :
“Each state has the power to control and administer the personal assets of an intestate found within her borders. Such as debts due from a local corporation or the shares of its stock, to satisfy the rights of her own citizens in the distribution of such assets. No state therefore, has the power by probate or other proceedings in rem to fix the course of devolution of personal property of an intestate situate beyond her borders and within the domain of another state."
This is strikingly illustrated in the case of Iowa v Slimmer, 248 U. S., 115. Slimmer was domiciled in Iowa, where he died, leaving a large estate in notes
Trautman et al. v Mohn,
and bonds, which he had fraudulently deposited with certain agents in Minnesota, to avoid Iowa taxation. By falsely claiming that the testator was domiciled in Minnesota, the will was probated there and the executors appointed. The Iowa Court decreed that Slimmer was domiciled there, and there appointed letters of administration. A bill was then filed in the Supreme Court of the United States, praying that it be adjudged that the testator was domiciled in Iowa, that that state had jurisdiction to administer the estate, and that an order issue dismissing the probate proceeding in Minnesota. The Supreme Court said (p. 120):
“So far as concerns the property of the testator located at his death in Minnesota, the probate court of that state had jurisdiction to determine the domicile
But even if the testator was not domiciled in Minnesota its court had power either to distribute property located there, according to the terms of the will applicable thereto, or to direct that it be transmitted to the personal representative of the decedent at the place of his domicile, to be disposed of by him."
From this and numerous cases, it is settled beyond cavil that every state has full and exclusive jurisdiction over the estate of deceased persons within its borders, and can, in its own courts, provide for the distribution thereof in conformity with its laws.
Brown v Fletcher's Estate, 210 U. S., 82.
The foregoing cases also establish that letters of administration have no extra territorial force, convey no authority whatever outside of the state of his appointment, and in the absence of statute, any recognition which he may receive outside the jurisdiction of his appointment, is due solely to the principle of comity which any state may extend or withhold at its pleasure. This necessarily follows from the broad principle that every state has exclusive jurisdiction and sovereignty over persons and property within its territory.
Pennoyer v Veff, 95 U. S., 714.
What is the result of the application of these legal principles to the facts of this case? The insurance companies exercising for their protection the rights conferred upon them under the Act of Congress, brought their money into the jurisdiction of the plaintiff's residence, paid it to the clerk of the District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, and here filed their bills for interpleader. In disposing of this fund this Court, sitting in Pennsylvania, should give full effect to the laws of this state which regulate and control the granting of letters of administration and the control and administration of the property of decedents. I can see no reason why the claim of the executors, chosen by the testator, duly empowered to act by the issue of letters testamentary, and whose full authority over the estate in Pennsylvania cannot be questioned, should be ignored in favor of a foreign administrator. We will assume that the funds in the hands of the executors will be properly disposed of according to law. A decree will be entered in accordance with this opinion.
WillsSole and Separate Use-Death of Husband -Real Estate-Fee
Simple-Power of Disposition—Testamentary Trust.
A "sole and separate use" created only for the benefit of a woman actually married or in immediate contemplation of marriage with a particular person at the creation of the trust, fails at the termination of the coverture so that where a woman took real estate at the termination of a trust created by her father's will, it was held that when she died a widow she died seized of an estate in fee simple, freed from any trust and that her estate passed under her will, and her children took only such interest as was specified therein, and the testamentary trust as to the children specified in her father's will did not apply.
Decree. No. 33 and 34 September Term, 1916. O. C. Allegheny County.
TRIMBLE, J., for the Court in banc, November 15, 1920.—The question involved is whether there is a life estate, or an estate in fee, vested in Lenore Lawman, a daughter of the testator, under the last will and testament of her father, William Ward, deceased.
William Ward died testate on the 3rd day of December, 1890. By his will he created a trust estate which terminated at the expiration of ten years after his death. His widow, Mary Ward, participated in the distribution of the income from this trust until June 16th, 1894, when she died. The material part of the will necessary for the determination of the question involved is this: "At the end of said term of ten years the principal sum in the hands of my said executors or the survivor of them and such of my real estate as then remains unsold shall be divided and distributed as follows, to wit: If my wife shall then be living the income of one-third of the said principal sum and of said real estate shall be paid and secured to her for and during the term of her natural life; subject to such life estate my children who may then be surviving whether they have children or not shall each take and receive absolutely one-seventh part thereof and if any of them be dead, leaving children, such children in equal shares shall respectively take the share their parent would have taken if living, to wit: one-seventh part thereof, subject to my wife's life estate therein, and if any of my children be dead leaving no children then the share of each of such deceased children, to wit: one-seventh part thereof subject to my wife's life estate therein, shall be divided absolutely equally among all my grandchildren then living share and share alike and the children of my deceased son John and the children of my deceased son William H. Ward, subject to my wife's life estate therein shall respectively take and receive the one-seventh thereof and they shall also take their equal shares as grandchildren in the portions of such of my children as shall die leaving no children as hereinbefore provided. As to the share of my daughter Lenore, either during the aforesaid pariod of ten years from and after my decease or at any time thereafter she shall have the right to will or in any way dispose of the interest in my estate hereinbefore devised and bequeathed to her whatever it may be under the provisions hereof and if she does will or otherwise dispose of the same then in the event of her dying within said period of ten (10) years without leaving children her share shall vest in her alienee or devisee as though she had survived said period and I further order and direct that any and all interest of whatsoever nature herein given in my estate to any of my married daughters shall be for their sole and separate use so that no present or future husband that any of them may have, shall have or exercise any right or control over the same." Lenore Lawman, one of the testator's married daughters, survived the duration
of the trust, and died May 4th, 1914. At the time of her death she was a widow, and by her will she devised and bequeathed all of her residuary estate in trust, and this devise included what passed to her under her father's will. We are to determine whether the estate devised and bequeathed to Lenore Lawman by the testator, was absolute, or whether the limitation to her sole and separate use, so that neither her husband, who was living at the time of the execution of the testator's will, nor any future husband should have or exercise any right or control over her estate, would cut down her interest to a life estate, and consequently whether the division and distribution of the testator's estate should be to Mrs. Lawman's estate, she having died after the termination of the testamentary trust, or to her children, one of whom is Mary Elizabeth, the exceptant. In MacConnell v Lindsay, 131 Pa., 476, in an opinion written by Mr. Justice Clark, we find the provision of the will which was involved in that proceeding to be as follows: "I hereby bequeath and devise to my said adopted daughter, Matilda Gross MacConnell all the rest and residue of my estate, real, personal and mixed, absolutely and in fee simple, and including therein any and all legacies which may lapse by reason of the death of my beneficiary or otherwise; and it is my will that the said Matilda Gross MacConnell, shall take and hold the property hereby given to her free from the control of her present or future husband, and without any liability for my debts, liabilities engagements of such husband, but wholly for her own use and benefit, and subject to her own control;" and there it was decided, following the rule laid down in Lancaster v Dolan, 1 R., 231, “That a feme.covert is, in respect to her separate estate, to be deemed a femme-sole only to the extent of the power clearly given her by the instrument by which the estate is settled, and has no right of disposition beyond that." This rule was followed in Steinmetz's Estate, Cobb's Appeal, 168 Pa., 175, and in Sheaffer's Estate, 230 Pa., 426. In Carman v Bumpus, 244 Pa., 136, there was a devise of the residue of the testator's estate to his daughter Amanda Atkinson, her heirs and assigns forever, on the trust that his said daughter should receive and hold the bequests, "for her own sole and separate use, free and discharged from the control, debts or engagements of her present or any future husband, her own receipt for the same to be a full discharge" to his executors, and the Court held that: "It is well settled that the estate became freed from any separate use, for, when created, the later marriage with Bumpus was not in contemplation. Such provision to be effective must be made in immediate contemplation of marriage which is presently in view of the donor to take place with a particular person a short time after the instrument is to go into effect, and the marriage must be in immediate view when the trust is created, and on the termination of the coverture the trust falls and is not revived by a second marriage: Wells v McCall, 64 Pa., 207. In Megargee v Nagle, 64 Pa., 216, it was said that the statute executes the use upon discoverture is sustained by abundant authority. Citing cases from Smith v Starr, 3 Whart., 62, to Dodson v Ball, 60 Pa., 492. In Quinn's Estate, 144 Pa., 444, it was again held that in Pennsylvania a separate use can be created only for the benefit of a woman actually married or in immediate contemplation of marriage with a particular person at the creation of the trust, and although effectual as respects the first marriage, it will not revive for her protection under a second marriage, and the decisions on the subject are reviewed by Mr. Justice Clark.” The result which must be arrived at in this case, is that Lenore Lawman, who was a widow at the time of her death, owned a fee simple estate in that portion of her estate which was derived under her father's will, freed from any trust, because her husband was then deceased, and that her estate thus derived, passed under her will into the testamentary trust which was created, and that her children have no interest therein, except as they benefit by her will.
Let a decree be drawn dismissing the exceptions.