Glover v. Patten
165 U.S. 394 (1897)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Glover v. Patten, 165 U.S. 394 (1897)

Glover v. Patten

No. 78

Argued January 5-6, 1897

Decided February 15, 1897

165 U.S. 394

Syllabus

An infant may affirm a contract or settlement made for her benefit, like the one here in controversy, and may sue upon it as if she were originally a party to it.

In a suit by children to establish their rights as creditors of the estate of their deceased mother, other creditors are not necessary parties, as the executors or administrators represent them and guard their interests.

The bill in this case, filed by direction of the orphans' court to obtain the advice of a court of chancery upon the rights of the respective parties, discloses on its face a good cause of action in equity.

That cause of action is not barred by the Maryland statute of limitations, still in force in the District of Columbia.

Where a parent, being a debtor to his child, makes an advancement to the child, it is presumed to be a satisfaction pro tanto of the debt.

In a suit between devisees under a will, statements made by the deceased to counsel respecting the execution of the will or other similar document are not privileged.

The objection that the complainants were incompetent to testify as to their mother's statements and as to transactions in which she took part is entitled to some weight and is not free from doubt, but such testimony is not indispensable to the maintenance of the complainants' bill.

The general bequest to her daughters in the mother's will was not an extinguishment of her debt to them.

No interest should be allowed prior to the mother's death.

Page 165 U. S. 395

This was a bill in equity filed in the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia by Mary E. Anastasia Patten, and to charge the estate and Helen Patten, against their sister Augusta P. Glover, wife of John M. Glover, in aid of the jurisdiction of the supreme court as an orphans' court to construe the will of their mother, Anastasia Patten, and to charge the estate with certain claims of the complainants prior to a general distribution of the assets.

The facts of the case are substantially as follows: complainants and defendant, Augusta P. Glover, are the five daughters of Edmund Patten, late of the State of Nevada, deceased, and of Anastasia Patten, who, after her husband's death, took up her residence in Washington, and died September 11, 1888, leaving a will executed in San Francisco December 23, 1879.

Edmund Patten, her husband, died November 16, 1872, intestate, his widow becoming his administratrix and also the guardian of each of his children, all of whom were then, and for some years continued to be, minors, under the age of twenty-one years. By the law of Nevada, Mrs. Patten became entitled, upon her husband's death, to one-half his estate, the other half descending to his children. As administratrix and guardian, she took possession of the entire estate, and retained the same down to the time of her death. She made no accounting either as administratrix or guardian, nor did she keep any regular accounts or preserve her vouchers.

In September, 1885, apparently because of a desire on the part of the sureties on her bond, or some of them, to have her accounts settled, Mrs. Patten undertook to adjust her indebtedness to her children. She called in the services of Curtis J. Hillyer, a friend of her husband and herself, and the result was the preparation of the following document, intended to take the place of a formal account and vouchers:

"Whereas our mother, Anastasia Patten, as guardian for us, received in the years 1873-'4-'5 certain amounts of money, being our portion by inheritance of the estate of our deceased father, and whereas, no special separate investments of the

Page 165 U. S. 396

money so received have been made by our said guardian, but the same has been by her kept and safely invested in connection with moneys belonging to her in her own right derived from the said estate, and whereas, our said guardian has, up to the present date, had entire charge of our maintenance and education, and has during the past thirteen years incurred a large amount of family expenses for our benefit, of which expenses no account has been kept by her, and whereas, we and our said guardian are now desirous of settling the account between us in a just and equitable manner, without attempting to secure technical accuracy in such settlement, and whereas our said mother and guardian has submitted to us for inspection all accounts and papers in her possession touching or relating to the receipts and disbursements entering into such accounting, and we have personally general knowledge concerning the family expenses during said period, and whereas, from such examination and knowledge, we believe that, by a payment to each of us by our said guardian of the sum of $101,600, an equitable settlement will be made and full justice done to each of us:"

"Now, therefore, each of us for herself agrees to accept the said sum of $101,600 in full and complete settlement of all accounts, claims, and demands between us and each of us and our said mother and guardian, and in full satisfaction of all claims and demands of whatever character arising out of or connected with the administration of said estate or the said relation of guardian and ward, and each of us for herself authorizes and requests that, upon presentation of this agreement and a receipt for the above amount, the court having jurisdiction thereof will, without further investigation of accounts so far as they concern either of us, pass the final accounts of our mother as administratrix and guardian, and, by proper decree, discharge those liable as bondsmen for her action in either capacity."

"[Signed]"

"Mary Ellen Patten"

"Katherine Augusta Patten"

"Josephine Antoinette Patten"

"Edith Patten"

Page 165 U. S. 397

This paper was signed by all the complainants except Helen, and by the defendant Augusta. Helen, being then a minor, did not sign it, but subsequently adopted and accepted the adjustment and settlement evidenced by the paper.

This paper was never presented by Mrs. Patten to the proper court, and it was in her possession when she died. She did not at that time pay to her children, or any of them, the sum therein mentioned in settlement of her indebtedness to them, but subsequently, and in February, 1887, when her daughter Augusta was on the point of marrying her husband, John M. Glover, she assigned and transferred to her United States government bonds of the par value of $80,000, and the actual value of $102,800, with the benefit of the interest accruing thereon since the preceding 1st day of January. Then Augusta married, and left her mother's home.

Mrs. Patten did not at that time pay or give her other daughters anything on account of her indebtedness to them. In the following autumn, however, namely, on October 15, 1887, she made for them and in their names an investment of the sum of $45,000, being at the rate of $11,250 for each, which the complainants claimed to have been a payment on account of her indebtedness to them. It was undisputed that the interest on this investment, from the time it was made until Mrs. Patten's death and thereafter, was always deposited in bank to the credit of the appellees, and for their account.

Within a year after this transaction, namely, on September 11, 1888, Mrs. Patten died without having done anything further towards settling her accounts as administratrix or guardian or paying her indebtedness to the appellees. It was found that she had left a will bearing date December 23, 1879, some seven years after her husband's death and nearly six years before the preparation and execution of the paper, in September, 1885.

By the terms of this will, Mrs. Patten devised and bequeathed the whole of her estate, subject to $45,000 in legacies, to her five daughters, and named as her executrices such of them as might have attained the age of majority at the time of her death, and who should not be otherwise incapacitated, to

Page 165 U. S. 398

undertake the trust. By virtue of the latter provision, all of the daughters were appointed and qualified in the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia as executrices, but, as the will was executed in the presence of two witnesses only, it was invalid to pass real estate situate in the District of Columbia, and, as the greater part of Mrs. Patten's estate at the time of her death consisted of such real estate, it descended to her daughters as though she had died intestate.

The daughters having all qualified as executrices and having entered upon the discharge of their duties, the appellees, claiming to be creditors of the estate of which they were also executrices, presented to the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia a petition wherein, after reciting the indebtedness of Mrs. Patten to all of her daughters, including Mrs. Glover, by reason of her guardianship, they alleged that in September, 1885, the amount of her indebtedness was adjusted, settled, and determined by mutual agreement (except as to Helen), evidenced by the paper writing of that month hereinbefore set forth; that Helen, being fully advised in the premises, adopted and accepted the said agreement and settlement; that by virtue of the premises, Mrs. Patten became and was indebted to each of the petitioners and to Mrs. Glover, as of that date, in the sum of $101,600; that on February 17, 1887, as of January 1, 1887, Mrs. Patten paid on account of her indebtedness to Mrs. Glover $102,800 by transferring to her bonds of the United States; that afterwards Mrs. Patten paid each of the petitioners on account the sum of $11,250, and that, by virtue of the premises, the estate of Mrs. Patten stood indebted accordingly, but, as the petitioners were advised that they might not retain for their claims unless passed by the court, they accordingly in their petition prayed the court to pass upon and authorize the payment of the same.

To this petition Mrs. Glover, the remaining executrix, appeared and filed an answer admitting the inheritance by her and the complainants of the estate aforesaid from their father, and set forth in substance that the said testatrix did become guardian of the complainants and said defendant, as alleged, and did receive their said estate aforesaid said as such guardian,

Page 165 U. S. 399

but that said testatrix never formally settled her accounts as such guardian, she not having been called upon so to do; that the document above set forth was drawn and signed in order to enable said testatrix formally to close her accounts as guardian aforesaid, but that the amounts agreed by the terms of said paper to be accepted by the complainants and said defendant were never paid, nor was any evidence of indebtedness given to them or any of them, and that notwithstanding said paper, the accounts of said testatrix as guardian as aforesaid remained open at the time of her death, and the said estate of the complainants and the said defendant was dealt with by said testatrix after the execution of said paper in the same manner as before the same was so drawn and signed; that therefore, by reason of the circumstances, a trust existed on the part of the said testatrix towards the complainants and the said defendant in respect of their said estate, and that the relation of said testatrix to the complainants and the said defendant was recognized and treated by her to the day of her death as that of trustee and cestuis que trustent, and not of debtor and creditors.

Defendant further set forth and contended that by her last will and testament, the said testatrix devised, subject to certain bequests of comparatively trifling amount, all her estate, real and personal, as well the estate of the said defendant and the complainants held in trust for them as her own estate; that such devise operated the extinguishment, discharge, and payment of any claim upon the part of the complainants in the premises; that their claims ceased to be provable as debts against the estate of said testatrix; that such alleged extinguishment, discharge, and payment are not affected by the fact that the said defendant and the complainants took title to the real estate of said testatrix by descent, instead of by devise, in consequence of the insufficient execution of the will, and that the several indebtednesses alleged by these complainants were never recognized or acted upon by said testatrix, and no part payments were made by her on account thereof.

Upon consideration of the petition and answer, the court made an order that further action upon the petition be suspended

"until said other matters whereof this Court had not

Page 165 U. S. 400

jurisdiction shall be first tried and determined in the appropriate tribunal, in such manner as counsel may advise."

Thereupon, on January 8, 1890, complainants filed their original bill in this cause, to which Augusta P. Glover interposed a demurrer and answer, and also filed a cross-bill, in which her husband joined. This was followed by a variety of answers, motions, demurrers, and amendments unnecessary to be set forth in detail, as the material facts already sufficiently appear. Subsequently, a considerable amount of oral and documentary evidence was taken and returned, and the cause having been transferred to the Court of Appeals of the District in pursuance of the Act of Congress approved February 9, 1893, that court, on November 8, 1893, entered a decree that the complainants were entitled to the relief prayed for, and that the cause be remanded to the supreme court, with directions to enter a decree in conformity with the opinion of the court. 1 App.Cas.D.C. 466. From this decree Augusta and her husband appealed to this Court.

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