Keely v. Moore
196 U.S. 38 (1904)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Keely v. Moore, 196 U.S. 38 (1904)

Keely v. Moore

No. 55

Argued November 9, 1904

Decided December 19, 1904

196 U.S. 38

Syllabus

The signature of a resident of the District of Columbia to a will executed abroad was witnessed on the day of execution by two witnesses; on the day following, an American vice consul signed, as such and under seal, a certificate that the testator had appeared before him and acknowledged the will and his signature thereto. It did not state that the testator signed in his presence. The law in the District of Columbia required three witnesses in testator's presence, but did not require the testator to sign in presence of witnesses. The will was attacked also on grounds of testator's insanity and undue influence on the testator who had, previous to the execution of the will, been for a short time in an insane asylum. In an action affecting title to real estate, there were issues sent to a jury and the title under the will sustained. Held that:

Under the circumstances in this case, the jury might properly draw the inference that the vice consul executed the certificates in the ordinary course of business and in presence of the testator.

Although a notary taking an acknowledgment as required by law is not, in the absence of separate signature as such, to be regarded as a witness, inasmuch as the certificate in this case was not required by law and was unnecessary, it was, together with the description appended to the vice consul's name, immaterial, and could be disregarded as surplusage, and the vice consul's signature regarded as that of a witness in his unofficial capacity.

Page 196 U. S. 39

The application of a relative, and the certificates of physicians, for the admission of testator to an insane asylum, from which he had been released apparently in sound condition prior to the execution of the will, were properly excluded, both because not sworn to and given in a different proceeding and on a different issue.

There was no error in submitting the question of testator's insanity to the jury with the instruction that, if they found that the insanity was permanent in its nature and character, the presumptions were that it would continue, and the burden was on those holding under the will to satisfy the jury that he was of sound mind when it was executed.

A man may be insane to the extent of being dangerous if set at liberty, and yet have sufficient mental capacity to make a will, enter into contracts, transact business and be a witness.

This was an action of ejectment brought in the Supreme Court of the District by grantees of the heirs at law of William Thomson against Joseph H. Moore and the firm of Thomas J. Fisher & Company, agents of Mary Cecelia and Georgiana Hawkes Thomson, of the County of Kent, England, devisees under the will of William Thomson, to recover possession of an undivided ninety-one one hundredths of certain real estate in the City of Washington. Upon the trial, it was admitted that William Thomson died in Southampton, England, in 1887, seised of the lot in question; that he was born in, and was a citizen of, the United States, leaving no issue or descendants. Plaintiffs had acquired the title of the heirs at law, and the defendants were in possession of the lot as life tenants under his alleged will.

The validity of the will and the due execution thereof were contested by the plaintiffs for reasons hereinafter indicated in the opinion. The trial resulted in a verdict for the defendants, upon which judgment was entered, and affirmed by the Court of Appeals. 22 App.D.C. 9.

Page 196 U. S. 40

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