Colt v. Colt,
111 U.S. 566 (1884)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Colt v. Colt, 111 U.S. 566 (1884)

Colt v. Colt

Argued April 18, 21-22, 1884

Decided May 5, 1884

111 U.S. 566


When an infant, properly served in a suit pending before a state court, is before the court, the question whether to proceed by general guardian or by guardian ad litem is local to the law of jurisdiction, and when passed upon by the courts of that jurisdiction, the proceedings are conclusive upon the federal courts, as there is no question of jurisdiction.

A court of competent jurisdiction may determine the proper distribution of vested bequests, even though the possession and enjoyment are deferred.

A bequest to the executors of the testator and their successors in office, with directions to apply the income and profits to the education of minor children and to divide the gift and its accumulations among the children on the coming of the youngest to the age of twenty-one years, vests virtute officii in the executors who qualify, and on the death or removal of any one of them, his successor succeeds to his title.

As long as personal property is held by executors as part of the estate of the testator for the payment of debts or legacies or as a residuum to be distributed, they hold it by virtue of their office, and are accountable for it as executors.

When there is a question as to the distribution of a residuum of personal property in the hands of executors, who are also trustees under the will for minors claimants to a part of it, the duty of the executors toward the minors is discharged when they are brought before the court with their guardian and their interests are fairly placed under the protection of a court of equity.

This is a bill in equity to recover certain shares of the capital stock of Colt's Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company, a corporation of Connecticut at Hartford, in the hands of the executors of Samuel Colt, deceased, as a part of his residuary estate under his will.

The complainants are children of the late Christopher Colt, a brother of the testator, and Mrs. Theodora G. Colt, their mother, who is assignee of the interest of a deceased son. The defendants are executors of the last will of Samuel Colt, and trustees, and others, legatees claiming interests under the same.

Page 111 U. S. 567

The testator, Samuel Colt, made his last will and testament, June 6, 1856, and thereafter two codicils, one on January 12, 1858, the other, February 2, 1859. He died at his domicile, Hartford, Connecticut, in 1862, and his will and codicils were duly admitted to probate and record. A large part of his estate was comprised in 9,996 shares of the capital stock of the Colt's Patent Arms Manufacturing Company.

By his will he bequeathed 1,000 shares of this stock to his widow for life, with remainder to his after-born children, and to each of the latter also five hundred shares; 100 shares to Samuel Caldwell Colt, a son of a brother, "when he shall have arrived at the age of twenty-one years;" to the children of his brother Christopher 100 shares each, "as they shall arrive at the age of twenty-one years," respectively. He gave other legacies of stock to other named persons, and provided means for the foundation and establishment of a school or institution for the instruction and education of young men in practical mechanics and engineering. It contained also the following:

"To my brother, James B. Colt, now of said City of Hartford, I give and bequeath the use and improvement during his life of five hundred shares of the stock of said Colt's Patent Fire-arms Manufacturing Company, and, after the death of my said brother, to his issue lawfully begotten, as an absolute estate. This bequest is on condition that the said James B. Colt shall waive and relinquish all claims and demands, actual or pretended, which he may have against me or against said Colt's Patent Fire-arms Manufacturing Company."

"I also give and bequeath to my executors and their successors in said office five hundred shares of the stock of said Colt's Patent Fire-arms Manufacturing Company, in trust for the issue of said James B. Colt, lawfully begotten, the profits and dividends thereof to be applied to the education of his said issue, so far as the same may be necessary for that purpose, until the youngest surviving of said issue shall have reached the age of twenty-one years, when said stock and all accumulations thereof, if any, shall go to said issue, in equal proportions, as an absolute estate."

He gave also a legacy in stock to each of his executors.

Page 111 U. S. 568

The residuary clause is as follows:

"All the rest and residue of my estate of every kind and description not herein disposed of I give, bequeath, and devise as follows: all the remaining stock of said Colt's Patent Fire-arms Manufacturing Company of which I shall die possessed shall be divided among the several persons and parties to whom I have hereinbefore given legacies of stock in the ratio and proportion in which said legacies of stock are hereinbefore given. All my other residuary estate shall be divided among the several persons to whom I have hereinbefore given pecuniary legacies in gross in the ratio and proportion in which I have hereinbefore given such pecuniary legacies, meaning that my residuary estate in said stock shall be shared by the same persons to whom I have given specified legacies in stock, and in precisely the same ratable proportions, and that my other residuary estate shall be shared by the same persons to whom I have given gross pecuniary legacies, and in precisely the same ratable proportions."

The first codicil contains the following:

"I also revoke and cancel, for reasons growing out of his late unbrotherly conduct toward me, the legacy of five hundred shares of the stock of Colt's Patent Fire-arms Manufacturing Company, given in the aforesaid will to James B. Colt for life, remainder to his children, and, in lieu thereof, I give and bequeath said five hundred shares of stock to the trustees named in said will, for founding a school for practical mechanics and engineers, subject to the uses and trusts created in said will for that purpose."

By the second codicil, all the provisions previously made for founding and carrying on the school for mechanics were cancelled. It also contains the following:

"I hereby give and bequeath to each of the children of James B. Colt a legacy of one hundred dollars, and I hereby cancel and wholly revoke any and all other legacies or devises by me heretofore at any time made to or for the use and benefit of said children or any of them. I give to the eldest son of my brother, Christopher Colt, a legacy of one hundred dollars and no more,

Page 111 U. S. 569

and all legacies heretofore made in his favor are cancelled and revoked, and I hereby give, bequeath, and devise to the other children of my said brother (said eldest son not being included herein) the property, to-wit, five hundred shares of the stock of the Colt's Patent Fire-arms Manufacturing Company, which in and by said original will is bequeathed to my executors in trust for the use of the children of said James B. Colt, to have and to hold to said other children of the said Christopher in equal proportions. This last bequest is in trust for said children, and the property hereby bequeathed is to be held by my executors for said children in the same manner and subject to the same limitations as are provided in said original will in the bequest to the children of said James B. Colt. And I hereby confirm and establish said original will as altered, changed, and modified by this and the previous codicil, as and for my last will and testament."

Elizabeth H. Colt, the testator's widow, Richard D. Hubbard, and R. W. H. Jarvis were appointed and qualified as executors of the will.

After the death of the testator, his brother, James B. Colt, claimed that the cancellation by the first codicil of the specific legacy in the will to him for life, with remainder to his issue, of five hundred shares of the stock, did not have the effect of cancelling his interest under the residuary clause, on the ground that that clause should be construed as an independent disposition of the remaining stock, to the very persons, only, described as those to whom specific legacies of stock had been thereinbefore -- that is, in the will -- given, as if they had been again named, and not as a dependent legacy to those who, under the codicils as well as the will, became ultimately entitled as legatees to specific legacies of stock, although these legacies might be of the same stock which, in the will itself, had been originally given to others and afterwards cancelled. This claim, it will be observed, consisted of two parts, first of a right in himself to share in the residuum, and second to exclude from it those to whom, by the codicils alone, and not by the will, specific legacies were given. This branch of the claim necessarily antagonized the right of the children of Christopher Colt to participate in the residuum by reason of the legacy given to them in the second codicil.

Page 111 U. S. 570

To assert his interest in the residuary estate and to determine its amount and the several interests of all entitled to share in it, James B. Colt, in July, 1864, filed his bill in equity in the Superior Court of Connecticut for Hartford County. To that bill parties defendant, among others, were made as follows: Mrs. Elizabeth Hart Colt, as claiming an interest under the will, and also as executrix, and as administratrix of Henrietta Colt, deceased, and as guardian of Caldwell Hart Colt, a minor; Richard D. Hubbard, as claiming an interest under the will and as executor; Richard W. H. Jarvis, as claiming an interest under the will and as executor; Isabella De Wolf Colt, Le Baron B. Colt, Ed ward D. Colt, and Samuel Pomeroy Colt, all the last three being minors; Theodore De Wolf Colt, their guardian, and were duly served with process. A demurrer to this petition was filed on behalf of all the defendants, and was reserved for the advice of the Supreme Court of errors, whose decision thereon is reported as Colt v. Colt, 32 Conn. 422. From that report, the case seems to have been fully argued and thoroughly considered. The demurrer was overruled. The court decided that the bequest of a share of the residuary stock to James B. Colt had not been revoked; that the language of the revocation was plainly limited to the first five hundred shares, and that the second legacy to him of a share in the residuary stock must be regarded as an independent legacy, the reference to him as a person to whom the previous legacy had been given being merely designatio personae, not having the effect of attaching together the two bequests as necessarily connected in the same ownership, and that the latter was consequently not affected by the revocation.

The cause thereupon came on again in the superior court, the respondents having been ordered to answer over, and where, as it is recited in its record, "the parties again appear and are at issue upon a general denial of the allegations in the plaintiffs' bill," and thereupon the court made a finding of facts. Among other findings, after referring to the will and codicils of the testator, it is stated that

"the parties in this cause are interested in the estate of the said Samuel, in manner

Page 111 U. S. 571

and form and to the extent and proportion in said will and codicils expressed, set forth, and contained."

It is also stated that there are children of Christopher Colt, a brother of the testator,

"to-wit, the eldest son of the said Christopher, named in said will, and the said Isabella De Wolf Colt, and three children of the said Christopher, then minors under the age of twenty-one years, to-wit, Le Baron B. Colt, Edward D. W. Colt, and Samuel Pomeroy Colt, of which minor children the said Theodora De Wolf Colt was and is the legal guardian -- all of whom are residents in Hartford -- but the said Edward D. W. Colt has, since the last term of this Court, arrived at his majority."

It had been previously recited that when the parties appeared the minors "were duly represented by their guardians." The superior court reserved, for the advice of the Supreme Court of errors, the following questions arising upon the record of the case:

"1. Whether the interest taken in the residuum by James B. Colt is a life estate or an estate in fee."

"2. Whether said Colt shall receive interest upon the dividends made on his residuary stock, and if so, from what time."

"3. Have the legacies which the children of the testator, who deceased in his lifetime, would have taken had they survived him, lapsed, or are they to be considered and treated as intestate estate?"

"4. Do the said children of Christopher Colt take any share in the residuum of stock in respect to their legacy of five hundred shares given to them in the codicil to said will?"

"5. Do the said R. W. H. Jarvis and H. C. Deming both take a legacy of stock under said will, or only one of them, or neither of them?"

"6. What is the amount of the residuum of the stock, and who are entitled thereto, and in what proportions?"

"This Court also reserves all other questions arising upon the record, and also the question as to what decree shall be passed in this suit."

These questions were decided by the Supreme Court of errors, as found in the report of the case of Colt v. Colt, 33 Conn. 270.

Page 111 U. S. 572

In answering them, the court held that James B. Colt took an interest in the residuary stock for his life only. It said:

"The revocation was not sufficiently broad to take away the interest of James B. in the residuum. It was broad enough to take away that of the children. But there is nothing whatever to show an intention to enlarge the interest of James B., and such could not be the legal effect of a mere revocation of the interest of the other parties. It is not material to inquire what disposition is to be made of that remainder."

In answer to the question whether the children of Christopher Colt take any share in the residuum in respect of their legacy of five hundred shares given to them in the codicil to the will, the court said:

"The fourth question must be answered in the negative. In giving a construction to the will, we held that the residuum was given independently to the persons and parties to whom stock was thereinbefore given. It follows logically that persons and parties to whom stock was not thereinbefore given cannot take under the residuary clause."

Finally, the court declared that the amount of the residuum of stock was 5,346 shares, and proceeded to allot it to each person entitled by name, and, among others, to Christopher's children 459 27/31 shares, and to J. B. Colt for life, 574 26/31 shares. In pursuance of these instructions, a final decree was entered in the superior court, adjudging the above amounts of stock, respectively, among others, to James B. Colt, for life, and to the children of Christopher Colt, "in the manner specified in the will."

It will be observed that this decree, which was entered in March, 1866, disposed of the title and right in the whole residuary stock then in the hands of the executors for final distribution except the remainder in 574 26/31 shares set apart to James B. Colt for life. In accordance with its terms, the distribution of the stock and of its dividends and accumulations was actually made to the parties respectively; the executors, however, continuing to hold the stock awarded to the children of Christopher Colt, as trustees under the will, until January 11, 1873, when the

Page 111 U. S. 573

youngest, having arrived at full age, and that being the period for division among them, final payment and division to each was made, and a full settlement had between them and the executors, as such, and as trustees. The executors also held the stock allotted to James B. Colt for life, from the entry of the decree of the superior court establishing his right, paying to him its income until death, which took place October 28, 1878, and thereafter for final distribution to those entitled.

The complainants, who are the appellants, thereupon, on January 4, 1879, then being citizens of Rhode Island, filed the present bill in which, as finally amended, they set out the various provisions of the will and codicils of Samuel Colt heretofore recited, and their claims thereunder as the children of Christopher Colt, their mother joining with them as assignee and representative of the share of one deceased. They set out that up to the time of filing the bill, they had only received from the estate of the testator the following, to-wit: one hundred shares each of stock, legacies given to them under the will; four hundred and sixty shares of the residuary stock in respect of said legacies of 100 shares each, and the accumulations thereon; $2,500 gross legacies, and the residuum thereon; said five hundred shares of stock and dividends thereon given in trust for them in the codicil; which last had been paid over to them on January 11, 1873, excepting such portions of the accumulations thereon as had been included in payments made by the trustees to some of them for purposes of education during their minority.

But they claimed that in addition they were entitled to receive the 574 26/31 shares of stock still in the hands of the executors, in which James B. Colt had a life estate, and so far as any of said residuary stock and the accumulations thereon, rightfully belonging to them, under a proper construction of the will, had been transferred to the executors personally or distributed to others, parties defendant to the bill, that the equities between them should be adjusted by the court so as to make good and restore to them the amount of stock rightfully belonging to them under the will and codicils, with the accumulations thereon, and this they claimed to be such proportion of the

Page 111 U. S. 574

entire original residuary stock as the five hundred shares given them in the codicil bears to the whole amount of other legacies given in said will and codicils, and such proportion of the 574 26/31 shares which the executors held, subject to the life estate of James B. Colt, deceased, and now for distribution, upon the basis of their right therein as owners of the five hundred shares, and of the one hundred shares each, given them in the will, making nine hundred shares in all.

Referring to the proceedings and decrees of the Superior Court and Supreme Court of Errors of Connecticut, the bill insists that the complainants are not bound or barred thereby for these reasons:

"1. Because they were minors under the age of twenty-one years, not represented by a guardian ad litem, their general guardian, although made a party for that purpose, having no power or authority to represent them."

"2. Because the question as to their rights in respect of the legacy of five hundred shares, given to the executors in trust for them, could not be considered or passed upon until the period of payment and division, when the youngest became of age."

"3. Because the said Elizabeth Hart Colt, Richard D. Hubbard, and Richard W. H. Jarvis, trustees, under the will and codicil for them, were not summoned to appear in said proceedings in their capacity as said trustees, and entered no appearance in that capacity in their behalf, and employed no counsel to appear in their behalf as such trustees, and no issues were made up by said trustees involving the rights and interests of the children in and to the residuary stock."

"4. Because, if the appearance of said persons as executors is deemed to be equivalent to their appearance as trustees, they in fact opposed and did not maintain the claim of the complainants as they should have done."

"5. Because Mrs. Theodora G. Colt, on account of her inexperience and ignorance of such matters and her belief that the executors were charged with the duty of defending the rights of the children and were doing so, neglected to employ counsel on their behalf to protect their interests. "

Page 111 U. S. 575

For similar reasons, the complainants also claim that the settlements with the executors and trustees, by them, and in the probate court, are not conclusive, and pray for an account and a transfer to them of the stock which they are entitled to under the will and codicils, with the accumulations thereon, and for general relief.

The case was put at issue by answers and replications, and was heard upon pleadings and proofs; the final decree, brought here by this appeal, denying all relief to the complainants, Colt v. Colt, 19 Blatchford 399, to whom, however, was awarded the same proportion of the 574 26/31 shares, now fallen into the residuum for ultimate distribution by the death of James B. Colt, to that given to them in the residuum distributed by the decree of the Superior Court of Connecticut, viz., to each of the complainants 100/4150 of the said 574 26/31 shares. The decree declared:

"That the said plaintiffs, Le Baron B. Colt, Samuel P. Colt, Theodora G. Colt, assignee, Frank E. De Wolf, and Isabella D. W. Colt De Wolf, are not entitled to any other or further interest in the estate of said Samuel Colt, as claimed in and by their said bill of complaint, than their above proportions of said 574 26/31 shares of said stock and dividends, under the said will of said Samuel Colt."

"That especially the said plaintiffs are not entitled to any residuary stock of said company, or dividends thereon, under said will, by virtue of the gift of five hundred shares of stock, as prayed in said bill, or to any interest in the dividends made upon the said 574 26/31 shares, which accrued during the life of said James B. Colt. "

Page 111 U. S. 577

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