Cropley v. Cooper
86 U.S. 167 (1873)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Cropley v. Cooper, 86 U.S. 19 Wall. 167 167 (1873)

Cropley v. Cooper

86 U.S. (19 Wall.) 167

Syllabus

A testator having five pieces of property, to-wit, insurance stock, a vacant city lot, a farm, corporation stock, and a city house, and little or no other, and having four children, to-wit, three sons, two (A. and B.) married and having children, and one (C.) unmarried, and one daughter (D.) aged thirty, then married and having a child (E.) aged three years, made his last will.

He left the interest on the insurance stock and the vacant lot to his married son A.; "and at his death" "the aforementioned stock and the said vacant lot he equally divided between his (A.'s) children, their heirs and assigns, forever."

He left the interest on the corporation stock to his son B. "for and during his life," and at his death the said stock to be equally divided between his (B.'s) children.

He left the usufruct of the farm to his unmarried son C., "for and during his life," "and should he marry and have legal issue," the said farm to be equally divided amongst his children, when they shall have arrived at the age of twenty-one years. The will continued: "Should my said son die without lawful issue, it is my will that the said farm be equally divided between my other children," share and share alike, to them, their heirs and assigns, forever.

To his daughter he left the rent of his city house for and during her life, and directed that at her death the same should be sold and

"the avails thereof become the property of her children or child, when she or they have arrived at the age of twenty-one years, the interest in the meantime to be applied to their maintenance."

After the testator's death, D., the daughter, had another child, who died in infancy. The first child, E., lived till he was twenty-eight years old, and then died, his mother still living, aged fifty-six, and the house not yet having been sold.

On a bill filed by D., after the death of both her children and of her husband, to settle the title to the city house, as between herself and her brothers, the other children of the testator, held, both on the apparent intent of this particular will, as seen on reading the dispositions in the different clauses to all the children, to give a full estate where the child

Page 86 U. S. 168

of the testator had a child or children, and on the technical rules about vested and contingent remainders applicable to the clause relating to that share given to the daughter, that the grandson, E., took a vested remainder in the city house at the death of his grandfather, the testator, but subject to open and let in after-born children, and to take effect in enjoyment at his mother's death, that (the statute of Maryland making him sole representative of his infant sister) the right of this infant sister passed on her death to him, and (the same statute making a widowed mother the representative to her only child) that on his, E.'s, death, all his right passed to his mother, and accordingly that she, the daughter of the testator, was invested with all his right to the city house, and that she could have the property now sold, and that if it should be sold at her death the avails would go to her representative, and that she might either dispose of them in advance, by will, or leave them to be disposed of by the statute.

William Cooper, of Maryland, died in 1845, leaving a widow (Sarah), three sons, William, Joseph, and John, and one daughter, Elizabeth. Two of the sons, William and Joseph, were married and had children; John was unmarried. Elizabeth, then thirty years old, was married to Richard Cropley and had one son, William Cooper Cropley.

The testator's property consisted of a farm in Maryland, on which he resided; a house on Pennsylvania Avenue, in the City of Washington; a vacant lot there, on Capitol Hill; stock in the Potomac Insurance Company, and stock in the corporation of Alexandria.

His will ran as follows:

"I will and bequeath to my dear wife, Sarah Cooper, all my stocks which I own in corporate institutions during her life; also the rents arising from my house in the City of Washington. I also devise and bequeath to my said wife the usufruct of the farm on which I now reside, for and during her life, with the option of selling to same by her, . . . in which case my will is that the proceeds shall be invested in stocks of some sound and corporate institutions, the interest from the same to be enjoyed by my said wife for and during her life, and at her death the said farm, or its avails if previously sold, as above permitted, to be appropriated as hereinafter directed. "

Page 86 U. S. 169

"I will and devise to my son William, after his mother's death, the interest on $1,250 stock now held by me in the Potomac Insurance Company, Georgetown. I also will and bequeath to may said son, William Cooper, a vacant lot on Capitol Hill Washington, and at his death it is my will that the said vacant lot and aforementioned stock be equally divided between his children, their heirs and assigns forever."

"To my son John I give and bequeath, at his mother's death, the usufruct of the aforementioned farm, or the interest of its avails, if previously sold, for and during his life, and should be marry and have legal issue, it is my will that the said farm, or, if previously sold, the avails thereof, together with any interest that may be due thereon at his decease, shall be equally divided amongst his children when they shall have arrived at the age of twenty-one years, the interest is the meantime to be applied to their maintenance. Should my said son John die without lawful issue, it is my will that the said farm, or its avails in case of its being sold, be equally divided between my other children, share and share alike to them, their heirs and assigns forever."

"To my son Joseph, at his mother's death, I give and bequeath, for and during his life, interest on $1,500 in the Alexandria Corporation stock, held by me, and at his death the said stock to be equally divided between his children."

"To my daughter, Elizabeth Cropley, at her mother's death, I give and bequeath the rent of my house on Pennsylvania Avenue, in the City of Washington, situated on square _____, for and during her life; and at her death it is my will that the said _____ be sold, and the avails thereof become the property of her children or child, when he, she, or they have arrived at the age of twenty-one years, the interest in the meantime to be applied to their maintenance."

Shortly after the death of the testator, Mrs. Cropley had another child, a daughter, who died in infancy.

William Cooper Cropley, the child living at the death of the testator, died in December, 1870, at the age of twenty-eight, without issue, leaving his mother his sole heir-at-law and personal representative.

The widow of the testator died in February, 1854. Richard Cropley, the husband of Elizabeth, died in 1851.

Page 86 U. S. 170

After William Cooper Cropley's death, his mother, then fifty-six years of age, asserted ownership in the house on Pennsylvania Avenue, mentioned in the will, and by the last but two of the above-quoted clauses of the will devised to her for life, and at her death over to her child or children. Her view was that her deceased son, William Cooper Cropley, took a vested interest in the bequest in question at the death of his grandfather, the testator, but subject to open and let in after-born children, and to take effect in enjoyment at the death of his mother; that his sister, at her birth, took a like vested interest to the extent of a moiety; that at the sister's death her right passed to him as distributee (the statute of distributions of Maryland thus providing); that at his death all his right passed to her, his mother, the complainant, as a like distributee under the same statute.

The other children of the testator, William, John, and Joseph, claimed the property, as heirs-at-law, on the ground that the devise over to the child or children had lapsed.

This claim of the heirs-at-law casting a cloud on the title, Mrs. Cropley filed a bill in the court below against said William, John, and Joseph, to obtain a construction of the will.

The bill represented that the complainant wished to sell the property, but could not, owing to the cloud on the title made by the claim of the sons, and it prayed that a decree might be passed divesting the defendants of any title in or to the property, and vesting the same in the complainant, giving the true construction and interpretation of said last will and testament.

That the court would grant such other and further relief as to the court may seem meet and the interests of the complainant might require.

The court below decreed that the devise over to the child or children of Mrs. Cropley was contingent upon the child's or children's surviving the mother and also attaining twenty one, and hence that the devise over did not vest at the death of the testator, nor even upon William Cooper Cropley attaining

Page 86 U. S. 171

twenty-one, he having died in the lifetime of the mother. It accordingly dismissed the bill.

From this decree Mrs. Cropley took this appeal.

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