age, much less defeat it, to call it "precatory." The question of its existence, after all, depends upon the intention of the testator, as expressed by the words he has used, according to their natural meaning, modified only by the context and the situation and circumstances of the testator when he used them. On the one hand, the words may be merely those of suggestion, counsel, or advice, intended only to influence, and not to take away, the discretion of the legatee growing out of his right to use and dispose of the property given as his own. On the other hand, the language employed may be imperative in fact, though not in form, conveying the intention of the testator in terms equivalent to a command, and leaving to the legatee no discretion to defeat his wishes, although there may be a discretion to accomplish them by a choice of methods, or even to define and limit the extent of the interest conferred upon his beneficiary. "All the cases upon a subject like this," said Lord Chancellor COTTENHAM in Shaw v. Lawless, 5 Clark & F. 129, 153, "must proceed on a consideration of what was the intention of the testator." In Williams v. Williams, 1 Sim. (N. S.) 358, 369, Vice-Chancellor CRANWORTH said: "The point really to be decided in all these cases is whether, looking at the whole context of the will, the testator has meant to impose an obligation on his legatee to carry his express wishes into effect, or whether, having expressed his wishes, he has meant to leave it to the legatee to act on them or not at his discretion." And referring to rules for ascertaining this intention sought to be deduced from the numerous decisions on the subject, he adds: "I doubt if there can exist any formula for bringing to a direct test the question whether words of request, or hope, or recommendation are or are not to be construed as obligatory." In Briggs v. Penny, 3 Macn. & G. 546, Lord Chancellor TRURO stated the same rule with a little more particularity. He said: "I conceive the rule of construction to be that words accompanying a gift or bequest expressive of confidence, or belief, or desire, or hope that a particular application will be made of such bequest, will be deemed to import a trust upon these conditions: First, that they are so used as to exclude all option or discretion in the party who is to act as to his acting according to them or not; secondly, the subject must be certain; and, thirdly, the objects expressed must not be too vague or indefinite to be enforced." The most recent declarations of the English courts of equity do not modify this statement of the law. Lambe v. Eames, L. R. 6 Ch. 597; In re Hutchinson, 8 Ch. Div. 540; In re Adams, 27 Ch. Div. 394, 406.

The existing state of the law on this question, as received in England, and generally followed in the courts of the several states of this Union, is well stated by GRAY, C. J., in Hess v. Singler, 114 Mass. 56, 59, as follows: "It is a settled doctrine of courts of chancery that a devise or bequest to one person, accompanied by words expressing a wish, entreaty, or recommendation that he will apply it to the benefit of others, may be held to create a trust, if the subject and the objects are sufficiently certain. Some of the earlier English decisions had a tendency to give to this doctrine the weight of an arbitrary rule of construction. But by the latter cases in this, and in all other questions of the interpretation of wills, the intention of the testator, as gathered from the whole will, controls the court. In order to create a trust, it must appear that the words were intended by the testator to be imperative; and when property is given absolutely and without restriction, a trust is not to be lightly imposed, upon mere words of recommendation and confidence." In the previous case of Warner v. Bates, 98 Mass. 274, Chief Justice BIGELOW vindicated the soundness and the value of this rule in the following commentary. He said: "The criticisms which have been applied to this rule by text writers and in judicial opinions will be found to rest mainly on its applications in particular cases, and not to involve a doubt of the correctness of the rule itself as a sound principle of construction. Indeed, we cannot understand the force or validity of the objections urged against it if care is taken to keep it in

subordination to,the primary and cardinal rule that the intent of the testator is to govern, and to apply it only where the creation of a trust will clearly subserve that intent. It may sometimes be difficult to gather that intent, and there is always a tendency to construe words as obligatory in furtherance of a result which accords with a plain moral duty on the part of a devisee or legatee, and with what it may be supposed the testator would do if he could control his action. But difficulties of this nature, which are inherent in the subject-matter, can always be readily overcome by bearing in mind and rigidly applying in all such cases the test that to create a trust it must clearly appear that the testator intended to govern and control the conduct of the party to whom the language of the will is addressed, and did not design it as an expression or indication of that which the testator thought would be a reasonable exercise of a discretion which he intended to repose in the legatee or devisee. If the objects of the supposed trust are certain and definite; if the property to which it is to attach is clearly pointed out; if the relations and situation of the testator and the supposed cestuis que trust are such as to indicate a strong interest and motive on the part of the testator in making them partakers of his bounty; and, above all, if the recommendatory or precatory clause is so expressed as to warrant the inference that it was designed to be peremptory on the donee,-the just and reasonable interpretation is that a trust is created which is obligatory and can be enforced in equity against the trustee by those in whose behalf the beneficial use of the gift was intended."

In the light of this rule, as thus stated and qualified, we proceed to ascertain the intention of the testator in this will as to the point in controversy. In the first place, the language of the bequest to his wife is undoubtedly sufficient to convey to her at his death the whole estate absolutely and without conditions. The will says: "I give and bequeath to my said wife, Ellen M. Colton, all of the estate, real and personal, of which I shall die seized or possessed or entitled to." If this stood alone there could be no controversy as to the nature and extent of her title. But it does not stand alone, and it does not contain any expressions which necessarily anticipate or limit any subsequent provisions affecting it. It does not say expressly that she shall have the absolute right to use, for her own benefit exclusively, or the absolute right to dispose of, the estate which he gives to her. Her right to use and her power to dispose are merely the legal incidents of the title conveyed by the clause considered as unqualified by its context. But the bequest to the wife is immediately followed by the clause which is the subject of the present contention. In direct connection with his gift to his wife the testator adds: “I recommend to her the care and protection of my mother and sister, and request her to make such gift and provision for them as in her judgment will be best." It may well be admitted that the recommendation of the testator to his wife to care for and protect his mother and sister, when they should be deprived of the care and protection which he could personally secure to them while he lived, is not sufficient of itself to create a trust and attach it to the estate of his widow, so as to be capable of enforcement. It is certainly the expression of a strong desire on the part of the testator for a continuance of care and protection by his legatee over his mother and sister, but, considered by itself, cannot be construed as creating in them an enforceable right to a beneficial interest in the estate given to his widow. It is rather a personal charge than a property charge. But he did not leave it so. The testator adds: "And request her to make such gift and provision for them as in her judgment will be best." It is immaterial in the construction of this language to determine whether the word "gift" means a donation from the legatee or from the testator, for it is also to be a "provision." It is this which he requests his widow to make, out of that provision which the testator made directly for her, consisting of the whole of his estate, real and personal. The entire estate bequeathed to his widow is thus affected by this request. Is that request equivalent to a com

mand, or is it a mere solicitation, which, after his death, she may reject and disregard without violating the terms of his will, and the conditions upon which she accepted her estate under it? Is there anything in the language of the clause itself, in its context, or in the circumstances and situation of the testator when he framed it, to indicate an intention on his part to confer upon his widow the authority to accept his property, and at the same time to refuse to use it according to his request? Undoubtedly he gives to her some discretion on the subject; the gift and provision which he requests for his mother and sister is to be such as in her judgment will be best. It is to be such as will be best for them, having regard to all the circumstances, both of their necessities and the amount and sufficiency of the estate: and this proportion, which is to constitute what shall be best, is to be determined by the widow in the exercise of her judgment. It is her judgment that is to be called into exercise, and this excludes caprice, whim, and every merely arbitrary award; but whatever the judgment may be, and whatever discretion is involved in its exercise, it operates only upon the nature, form, character, and amount of the gift and provision intended for them. The fact of a gift and provision is presupposed, and stands on its own ground. Her judgment is not invoked as to that. The only ambiguity, in respect to whether there shall be a gift and provision or not, resides in the single word "request." Does that mean a wish of the testator which he intended to be fulfilled out of the means which he had furnished to make it effectual, or does it mean a posthumous petition which the testator understood himself as addressing to the favor and good-will of his sole legatee.

The situation of the testator at the time he framed these provisions is to be considered. He made his will October 8, 1878; he died the next day. It may be assumed that it was made in view of impending dissolution, in the very shadow of approaching death. There is room enough for the supposition that by this necessity the contents of his will were required to be brief; the conception of the general idea to give everything to his wife was simple and easily expressed, and capable of covering all other intended dispositions. The time and the circumstances perhaps disabled him from specifying satisfactory details concerning a provision for his mother and his sister, but he did not forget that he owed them care and protection. That care and protection, therefore, he recommended to his wife as his legatee; but he was not satisfied with that; he wished that care and protection to be embodied in a gift and provision for them out of the estate which he was to leave to her. He therefore requested her to make it, and that request he addressed to his legatee and principal beneficiary as expressive of his will that a gift and provision for his mother and sister should come out of it. His legacy to them was part of his legacy to her. All other particulars, as to its form and amount, he was willing to leave, and did leave, to be determined by his widow in her judgment of what would be best for his beneficiaries, so as to insure them that care and protection for which he was providing. The substance of the bequest was his own; the form of it, shaped only by the declared purpose of his bounty, he was willing to leave to the judgment of his wife. The alternative that such discretion should assume the power to disappoint his dispositions evidently was not present in his thoughts, as it is not implied in his words. The language of the testator immediately succeeding that under consideration throws some light on the meaning of the words in dispute. He says: "I also request my dear wife to make such provision for my daughter Helen, wife of Crittenden Thornton, and Carrie, as she may in her love for them choose to exercise." These were the daughters of the wife as well as of the testator, as is to be inferred from the fact that he refers the whole subject of any provision for them to her love, and the provision which he requests in their behalf is to be not such "as in her judgment will be best, but only such "as she may in her love for them choose to exercise," leaving

the whole question of a provision subject to the exercise of the legatee's choice, which the testator was quite willing to adopt as the dictate of the love of a mother for her children. It is also to be assumed that the circumstances and situation of his mother and sister were remembered by the testator in the act of making his will; that they were separated from his personal care by a wide distance; that his mother was a widow, and had nearly attained the age of three score years and ten; that even before the death of his father her health was feeble, and that since, she had been an invalid, enduring much sickness and suffering, requiring constant medical attendance, and the nursing and care of her daughter, who had always resided with her; that except the lot in Greenwood cemetery, where her husband was buried, she owned no real estate, and had no income except the interest on $15,000, which had been advanced to the testator himself by his father as a loan many years previously, and on the income from which the mother and daughter were obliged, with great economy and self-denial, to maintain themselves in very straitened circumstances. A recollection of their necessities, as well as natural love and affection, must have inspired that sentence of his will by which the testator recommended to his widow the care and protection of his mother and sister, giving commanding weight and solemnity to the accompanying request "to make such gift and provision for them as in her judgment will be best;" for he also well knew that such a provision, sufficient for their comfort and independence, would not sensibly diminish the abundance of the legacy to his wife out of which it must issue. It is an error to suppose that the word "request" necessarily imports an option to refuse, and excludes the idea of obedience as corresponding duty. If a testator requests his executor to pay a given sum to a particular person, the legacy would be complete and recoverable. According to its context and manifest use, an expression of desire or wish will often be equivalent to a positive direction, where that is the evident purpose and meaning of the testator; as where a testator desired that all of his just debts, and those of a firm for which he was not liable, should be paid as soon as convenient after his decease, it was construed to operate as a legacy in favor of the creditors of the latter. Burt v. Herron, 66 Pa. St. 400. And in such a case as the present, it would be but natural for the testator to suppose that a request, which, in its terms, implied no alternative, addressed to his widow and principal legatee, would be understood and obeyed as strictly as though it were couched in the language of direction and command. In such a case, according to the phrase of Lord LOUGHBOROUGH in Malim v. Keighley, 2 Ves. Jr. 333,529, "the mode is only civility.

[ocr errors]

But it is also argued that the trust sought to be established under this will in favor of the complainants is incapable of execution by reason of the uncertainty as to the form and extent of the provision intended, and because it involves the exercise of discretionary power on the part of the trustee which a court of equity has no rightful authority to control. We have seen that whatever discretion is given by the will to the testator's widow does not affect the existence of the trust. That discretion does not involve the right to choose whether a provision shall be made or not; nor is there anything personal or arbitrary implied in it. It is to be the exercise of judgment directed to the care and protection of the beneficiaries by making such a provision as will best secure that end. There is nothing in this left so vague and indefinite that it cannot, by the usual processes of the law, be reduced to certainty. Courts of common law constantly determine the reasonable value of property sold, where there is no agreement as to price, and the judge and jury are frequently called upon to adjudge what are necessaries for an infant or reasonable maintenance for a deserted wife. The principles of equity, and the machinery of its courts, are still better adapted to such inquiries. In the exercise of their discretion over trusts and trustees, it is a fundamental maxim that no trust shall fail for want of a trustee, and where the trustee

appointed neglects, refuses, or becomes incapable of executing the trust, the court itself in many cases will act as trustee. In Thorp v. Owen, 2 Hare, 607, WIGRAM, V. Č., said: "Whatever difficulties might originally have been supposed to exist in the way of a court of equity enforcing a trust, the extent of which was ascertained, the cases appear clearly to decide that a court of equity can measure the extent of interest which an adult, as well as an infant, takes under a trust for his support, maintenance, and advancement, provision, or other like indefinite expression, applicable to a fund larger confessedly than the party entitled to the support, maintenance, or advancement can claim, and some interest in which is given to another person." And in Foley v. Parry, 2 Mylne & K. 138, where the words of a will were, "and it is my particular wish and request that my dear wife and A. will superintend and take care of the education of D., so as to fit him for any respectable profession or employment," it was held that a charge was created on the interest taken by the testator's widow which could be made effectual by a court of equity. It is quite true that where the manner of executing a trust is left to the discretion of trustees, and they are willing to act, and there is no mala fides, the court will not ordinarily control their discretion as to the way in which they exercise the power, so that if a fund be applicable to the maintenance of children at the discretion of trustees, the court will not take upon itself, in the first instance, to regulate the maintenance, but will leave it to the trustees. But the court will interfere wherever the exercise of the discretion by the trustees is infected with fraud or misbehavior, or they decline to undertake the duty of exercising the discretion, or generally where the discretion is mischievously and erroneously exercised, as if a trustee be authorized to lay out money upon government, or real, or personal security, and the trust fund is outstanding upon any hazardous security. Lewin, Trusts, (4th Eng. Ed.) c. 20, § 2, pp. 402, 403. In the case of Costabadie v. Costabadie, 6 Hare, 410, 414, Vice-Chancellor Sir JAMES WIGRAM said: "If the gift be subject to the discretion of another person, so long as that person exercises a sound and honest discretion, I am not aware of any principle or any authority upon which the court should deprive the party of that discretionary power. Where a proper and honest discretion is exercised, the legatee takes all that the testator gave or intended that he should have; that is, so much as in the honest and reasonable exercise of that discretion he is entitled to. That is the measure of the legacy." But it is always for the court eventually to say, when called upon, whether the discretion has been either exercised at all, or exercised honestly, and in good faith. In re Hodges, Davey v. Ward, 7 Ch. Div. 762. Plainly, if the trustee refuses altogether to exercise the discretion with which he is invested, the trust must not on that account be defeated, unless by its terms it is made dependent upon the will of the trustee himself. On the whole, therefore, our conclusion is that each of the complainants in these bills is entitled to take a beneficial interest under the will of David D. Colton, to the extent, out of the estate given by him to his wife, of a permanent provision for them during their respective lives, suitable and sufficient for their care and protection, having regard to their condition and necessities, and the amount and value of the fund from which it must come. It will be the duty of the court to ascertain after property inquiry, and thereupon to determine and declare, what provision will be suitable and best under the circumstances, and all particulars and details for securing and paying it. The decrees of the circuit court are accordingly reversed, and the causes remanded, with directions to overrule the demurrers to the several bills, and to take further proceedings therein not inconsistent with this opinion; and it is so ordered.

« ForrigeFortsett »