Prevost v. Gratz
19 U.S. 481

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U.S. Supreme Court

Prevost v. Gratz, 19 U.S. 6 Wheat. 481 481 (1821)

Prevost v. Gratz

19 U.S. (6 Wheat.) 481


To establish the existence of a trust, the onus probandi lies on the party who alleges it. In general, length of time is no bar to a trust clearly established to have once existed, and where fraud is imputed and proved, length of time ought not to exclude relief.

But as length of time necessarily obscures all human evidence and deprives parties of the means of ascertaining the nature of the original transactions, it operates by way of presumption in favor of innocence and against imputation of fraud.

In what cases the lapse of time will bar a trust.

Effect of length of time in raising a legal and equitable presumption of the extinguishment of a trust, payment of a debt, &c.

The lapse of forty years and the death of all the original parties deemed sufficient to presume the discharge and extinguishment of a trust proved once to have existed by strong circumstances by analogy to the rule of law, which after a lapse of time, presumes the payment of a debt, surrender of a deed, and extinguishment of a trust where circumstances require it.

This was a bill in chancery filed in the court below by the plaintiff, George W. Prevost, as administrator de bonis non, with the will annexed, of

Page 19 U. S. 482

George Croghan, deceased, against the defendants Simon Gratz, Joseph Gratz, and Jacob Gratz, administrators of the estate of Michael Gratz, deceased, for a discovery and account of all the estate of G. Croghan, which had come to their hands or possession either personally or as the representatives of M. Gratz, who was one of the executors of G. Croghan, who died in August, 1782, having appointed M. Gratz, B. Gratz, T. Smallman, J. Tunis, and W. Powell, executors of his last will and testament. All the executors except W. Powell died before the commencement of the suit. B. Gratz died in 1800, and M. Gratz in 1811. W. Powell was removed from his office as executor in the manner prescribed by the laws of Pennsylvania after the death of M. Gratz, and the plaintiff was thereupon appointed administrator de bonis non with the will annexed. The bill charged M. Gratz and B. Gratz (the representatives of B. Gratz not being made parties) with sundry breaches of trust in respect to property conveyed to them in the lifetime of the testator, and with other breaches of trust in relation to the assets of the testator after his decease, and also charged the defendants with neglect of duty in relation to the property and papers of G. Croghan which had come to their hands since the decease of M. Gratz.

The first ground of complaint on the part of the plaintiff related to a tract of land lying on Tenederah River in the State of New York which was conveyed by G. Croghan to M. Cratz, as containing 9,050 acres, by deed dated 2 March, 1770, for the consideration expressed in the

Page 19 U. S. 483

deed of $1,800. The deed was upon its face absolute, and contained the covenants of general warranty, and for the title of the grantor, which are usual in absolute deeds. At the time of the execution of the deed, G. Croghan was in the State of New York, and M. Gratz was at Philadelphia. The land thus conveyed was, in the year 1795, and after the death of G. Croghan, sold by M. Gratz to one Lawrence in New York for a large sum of money. The plaintiff alleged that this conveyance made by G. Croghan to M. Gratz, though in form absolute, was in reality a conveyance upon a secret trust, to be sold for the benefit of the grantor, and he claimed to be allowed the value of the lands at the time the present suit was brought, upon the ground of a fraudulent or improper breach of trust by the grantee, or at all events to the full amount of the profits made upon the sale in 1795, with interest up to the time of the decree. This trust was denied by the defendants in their answer so far as respects their own knowledge and belief, and if it did ever exist, they insisted that the land was afterwards purchased by M. Gratz, with the consent of G. Croghan, for the sum of 850

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