Robison v. Female Orphan Asylum of Portland
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123 U.S. 702 (1887)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Robison v. Female Orphan Asylum of Portland, 123 U.S. 702 (1887)
Robison v. Female Orphan Asylum of Portland
Argued December 7, 1887
Decided December 19, 1887
123 U.S. 702
In construing doubtful clauses in a will, the court will endeavor to ascertain the testator's intention through their meaning as reasonably interpreted in the particular case, rather than resort to formal rules or to a consideration of judicial determination in other cases apparently similar.
The testator in this case provided in his will that his widow should have the income of all his estate, she having the right to spend it, but not to have it accumulate for her heirs; that his two sisters, if living at the time of the death of himself and his wife or the one that might then be living, should "have the income of all my estate as long as they may live, and at their death to be divided in three parts, one-third of the income to go to" a charitable institution, one-third to another institution, and one-third to another. Both sisters died before the testator. Held that the
limitations in the two subdivisions of the will were to be taken, in connection with each other, as a complete disposition, in the mind of the testator, of his estate giving to the widow an estate for life, with an estate over for life to the sisters contingent upon one or the other of them surviving the widow, and with the ultimate remainder to the charitable institutions.
Robert I. Robison, formerly of Portland in the State of Maine, died on the 13th day of June, 1878 at that time a citizen of the State of New York and resident of Brooklyn, leaving a last will and testament, which was subsequently admitted to probate in the Surrogate's Court of Kings County, New York, and duly recorded on December 27, 1878. Letters testamentary thereon were on the same day issued and granted to Jane S. Robison, his widow, who alone qualified as executrix. The testator at the time of his death was seized of real estate in the City of Portland and also possessed of a considerable amount of personal property.
The following is a copy of the will:
"I, Robert I. Robison, of Portland, in the State of Maine, being in a sound disposing mind and memory, do make and publish this my last will and testament. And first my will is that my executors see that my body be buried in a decent and proper manner in the family vault in the Eastern Cemetery in the City of Portland aforesaid. Secondly, I will all my just debts be paid in full, and from the balance I will that with whatever property may be standing in my wife's, Jane S. Robison's, name at the time of my death, that my executors make up said amount to the sum of eight thousand and five hundred dollars, it being the amount, or thereabouts, which she received from her father's and mother's estates, it being my will that the principal shall be kept good to her and her heirs, but not the interest. This is to be in full for all claims she may have on my estate arising out of the use of her property. Thirdly, I further will that she may have the income of all my estate, she having the right to spend the same, but not to have it accumulate for her heirs. Fourthly, it is my will that if my sister, Ann Smith, wife of Jacob Smith
of Bath, in the State of Maine, and Eleonora Cummings Robison, wife of Thomas Weeks Robison, of Kingston, Canada West, be living at the death of myself and wife, Jane S. Robison, aforesaid, that they, or the one that may be then living, shall have the income of all my estate as long as they may live, and at their death to be divided in three parts, one-third part of the income to go to the Portland Female Orphan Asylum, one-third of the income to the Widows' Wood Society, and one-third of the income to the Home for Aged Indigent Women, all of the City of Portland, and State of Maine. Lastly, I do nominate and appoint my wife, Jane S. Robison, and John Rand, Esq., to be my executors of this my last will and testament."
"In testimony whereof I have hereunto subscribed my name and affixed my seal this thirty-first day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two."
"[S'd] ROBERT I. ROBISON [L.S.]"
"Signed, sealed, and declared by the said Robert Ilsley Robison to be his last will and testament in the presence of us, who at his request and in his presence have subscribed our names as witnesses hereto."
"CHAS. H. ADAMS"
"B. F. HARRIS"
On December 29, 1881, the present bill in equity was filed by Jane S. Robison, as widow and executrix, for the purpose of obtaining a construction of the will, the defendants being charitable institutions named therein, and the only other parties in interest, Ann Smith and Eleonora Cummings Robison, the persons mentioned in the fourth item of the will, having both died before the testator. It was contended on the part of the complainant that in consequence of the lapse of the devise and legacy to Ann Smith and Eleonora Cummings Robison, the bequest to the defendants never took effect, and that consequently the complainant was entitled to the estate absolutely by virtue of the
devise to her, or in the alternative because the testator had died intestate as to that part of the estate mentioned in the fourth subdivision of the will. The decree of the circuit court, however, was
"that the complainant is entitled only to the income of the estate during her natural life, and that the fourth subdivision of the last will and testament of the testator is operative and valid, and was so at the time the will took effect, and that the defendant corporations acquired by virtue thereof the right, from and after the death of the complainant, to the perpetual income of the said estate."
To review that decree the present appeal has been brought.