2 U.S. 243 (1796)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

RUSTON'S EX'RS v. RUSTON, 2 U.S. 243 (1796)

2 U.S. 243 (Dall.)

Ruston's Executors

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

March Term, 1796

In this action a verdict had been taken for the Plaintiffs, for L 2096 13s4, subject to the opinion of the Court, on a point reserved, to be argued upon a motion for a new trial. The case was this: Job Ruston made his last Will and Testament, dated the 17th of January 1784, and thereby first, 'after his just and lawful debts and funeral charges paid, he bequeathed L 500. and some specific goods and chattels, to his wife. He next devised all his real estate to his eldest son Thomas in fee, provided he payed to his executors L 3000, by annual installments, during seven years and a half; and directed, in case of his son's failing to make these payments, within three months after the times limited for them respectively, that his executors shall sell and convey particular parts of his real estate; but he made no provision for the sale of the residue, consisting of a Messuage, Mill, and Tract of 325 acres of Land. He then gave to each of his children legacies in money, and also some specific legacies, which were to be in full of their respective shares of his estate: [243-Continued.]

He bequeathed L 100 to a charitable use, to be taken out of the remainder of his estate, before any share or dividend shall be made to his sons and daughters: And, lastly, he willed and bequeated the remainder of his estate to his five children, to be divided into ten parts, of which one part is given to his said eldest son Thomas Ruston, another to his daughter Sarah, and the remaining eight parts are given to the three younger children, in equal proportions.' Part of the testator's real estate, devised to his son Thomas Ruston, was subject to a mortgage given to the managers of the Pennsylvania Hospital. Thomas Ruston, the devisee, had paid no part of the L 3000; the lands which the Executors were empowered to sell had, consequently, been sold; but after applying the proceeds of the sale, some of the debts, and all the pecuniary legacies, remained unpaid. For the difference between the proceeds of the sale, and the L 3000, the present action was brought.

The case was argued in September term last, by Ingersoll and M'Kean, for the plaintiffs, and by E. Tilghman and Heatly, for the defendant: And two questions were made. 1st. Whether the whole of the real estate devised to the defendant Thomas Ruston, was liable for the payment of the L 3000, for satisfying the testator's debts and legacies? 2nd. Whether the defendant was bound to discharge the mortgage, on a part of the lands devised to him, out of his own funds; or the Executors were bound to discharge it out of the testator's personal estate?

On the first question the plaintiff's counsel cited 2 Vent. 357.

Page 2 U.S. 243, 244

1 Eq. Abr. 199. pl. 10 2 Vern. 26. Bendl. Rep. 281. Dy. 348. 1 Atk. 382. 3 Bro. Ca. in Ch. 165: And on the second question they cited, 1 Ch. Ca. 271. 1 P. Wms. 730, 1. 1 Eq. Abr. 142. pl. 7. Ibid. 143 pl. 11. 3 Woodes. 485.

The counsel for the defendant cited, 2 Bl. Com. 119. 111. 1 Atk. 382. Shep. T. 121. Lov. on Wills 54. 1 Cha. Ca. 271.

On the 2nd of April 1786, the Chief Justice delivered the following opinion:

M'Kean, Chief Justice.

In the case of an intestacy, the rule of law is clear, that simple contract debts, bonds, mortgages, and specialties of every sort, must be paid by the administrators out of the personal estate, this being the natural fund for debts, tho' the younger children should be thereby left destitute: But where there is a will, the testator can substitute other funds in the place of the personal estate. What has Job Ruston willed in this particular, is the question.

The intention of the testator shall govern the construction of a will in all cases, except where the rule of law over-rules the intention, and this is reduceable to four instances. 1. Where the devise would make a perpetuity. 2. Where it would put the freehold in abeyance. 3. Where chattels are limited as inheritances. And 4. Where a fee is limited on a fee. Select cases in Chan. 31. Papillon v. Voice. And this intention must be collected from the whole of the will or writing itself. 3 Burr. 1541. 1581. 1662. 2 Burr. 771. 1106. 1 Vez. 231, and many other books.

What then was the intention of the testator as expressed in his will? The value of the real estate devised to the defendant, the quantum of his debts, and the amount of his personal estate at his death, would give considerable light in this matter. These have not been satisfactorily ascertained to us. However, we have been told, that the debts, specific and pecuniary legacies, with the charges of administration, will amount to about L 3860. and that the personal estate produced only L 588 13s9. So that if the defendant had paid the L 3000, there would have been a deficiency of L 270, and upwards, and nothing left for the residuary legatees. The counsel for the defendant insist, that he shall hold the remainder of the real estate unfold by the executors, exempt from the payment not only of any of the legacies, but also of the debts, unless the personal estate and the produce of the lands sold shall prove insufficient for the discharge of the debts; because, they say, the L 3000 was no legacy to the executors; it was no charge on the lands, for they were all devised to the heir at law; it was no condition, there being no remedy in case of failure; and it was no limitation, there being no devise over.

Page 2 U.S. 243, 245

The defendant took possession of the lands so devised to him; this evidences his assent to pay the L 3000, and the intention of the testator that he should pay it to his executors, is too plain to bear argument. What rule of law or reason is there, to prevent the executors from recovering it? Suppose the devise to the defendant had been subject to the payment of his debts, instead of a certain sum of money, viz. L 3000, as in this case, the lands would be assets at law. The testator has subjected the gift to the payment of the L 3000, and it must pass cum onere. I, therefore, consider the L 3000, on the first question, as an equitable, if not a legal, charge, or as a trust or condition, which affects and binds the real estate, devised to the eldest son Thomas Ruston, and which it was the manifest intention of the testator he should pay at all events. Thomas could not be considered in this case as heir at law in Pennsylvania; where, if at that time a person died intestate, leaving divers children, his real estate descended to all his children equally, the eldest son having only a double portion, or share; and, therefore, the devise may be considered even a condition. Cases in Eq. temp. Talbot 271. 1 Atk. 383. 3 Will. 325. The same judgment was given by all the then justices of the Supreme Court, five years ago, between the same parties, on a case stated on this very point; which I deem conclusive. But the second question, respecting the payment of the mortgage on the 218 acres is new. It appears to have been the intention of the testator, that the legacies specific and pecuniary should be paid, as well as that the devise of the real estate should take effect; and if practicable the assets should be so marshalled, that the testator's intention in the whole should be carried into execution. The testator seems to have thought the L 3000 would have been sufficient to have discharged all his debts, and also the particular pecuniary legacies; but in this he has been mistaken. A mortgage is a debt; it arises on a loan; and there is a covenant to pay the money: It is a specialty debt. Thomas Ruston is an haeres factus of the whole real estate, on his payment of the L 3000; and if that sum had been more than sufficient to pay off all the particular pecuniary legacies, by which I mean those given to his widow and children in full of their respective shares of his real estate, I would be of opinion that the mortgage should be paid out of the residue of that sum, as much as any other debt, and that he should not take the estate with this additional incumberance, as it does no where appear in the will, that the testator meant he should take it with this lien upon it. It is the constant practice in Chancery, to allow children the same favor as creditors. Talbot 275. I therefore think, that the specific and particular pecuniary legacies bequeathed to the children

Page 2 U.S. 243, 246

ought not to be brought in case of the particular lands mortgaged; but it seems to me, that the devise of the residuary part of the personal estate should give way to the devise of the real estate, subjected to the mortgage, and be applied as far as it will go in discharge of the mortgage; for the devisee of the real estate must take it cum onere, that is subject to the mortgage, unless the residue of the personal estate will be sufficient to discharge it. See Gilb. Rep. in Eq. 72. Talbot 202. 2 Atk. 230. 1 Will. 730. 694. Prec. in Cha. 578.

The following judgment was thereupon entered.

By the Court: It is considered by the Court, that the plaintiffs recover the sum of money mentioned in the verdict, together with lawful interest thereon, and the costs of suit; and that if there should remain any overplus, after paying and satisfying the general debts, the specific and pecuniary legacies, out of the personal estate, and the equitable charge of L 3000 on the lands devised to the defendant, that the same be applied, in the first place, in discharge of the mortgage on part of the said lands to the managers of the Pennsylvania Hospital, and afterwards of the charitable legacy, and then among the residuary legatees, agreeably to the will of the testator.

Official Supreme Court caselaw is only found in the print version of the United States Reports. Justia caselaw is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect current legal developments, verdicts or settlements. We make no warranties or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained on this site or information linked to from this site. Please check official sources.