Lipphard v. Humphrey,
209 U.S. 264 (1908)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Lipphard v. Humphrey, 209 U.S. 264 (1908)

Lipphard v. Humphrey

No. 188

Argued March 20, 1908

Decided April 6, 1908

209 U.S. 264


Inability to read does not create a presumption that a testator does not know the contents of a paper declared by him to be his last will and duly executed as such.

There is a presumption that the testator does know the contents of a will properly executed, which, while not conclusive, must prevail in the absence of proof of fraud, undue influence, or want of testamentary capacity, even where testator's inability to read is proved.

In the absence of proof of want of testamentary capacity at the date of the will, declarations of the testator as to the contents thereof are inadmissible to prove lack of knowledge of such contents

28 App D.C. 355 affirmed.

Loraine Lipphard, of the District of Columbia, died December 9, 1903, leaving a paper writing purporting to be her last will and testament, bearing date April 27, 1898, duly attested by three witnesses, and naming Rev. Mr. Meador as executor.

Decedent left surviving her as her next of kin and sole heirs at law her husband, Adolph F. Lipphard, Sr.; three sons, named John, William A. and Adolph F. Lipphard, Jr.; two daughters, named Sophia L. Hellen, born Lipphard, and Capitola L. Anderson, born Lipphard; sixteen grandchildren, four of whom were infants under the age of twenty-one years. All the other of her heirs and next of kin were of lawful age. Decedent's property consisted of a small quantity of personal property, valued at $350, and some real estate, valued at $10,000.

The husband, Adolph F. Lipphard, Sr., and two of the sons, William A. and Adolph F. Lipphard, Jr., filed a caveat to the probate of the will. All of the other next of kin and heirs at law became parties in one way or another. Before the issues were framed on the caveat, the Rev. Mr. Meador departed this life. Thereupon decedent's daughters, Capitola L. Anderson

Page 209 U. S. 265

and Sophia L. Hellen, beneficiaries under the writing, petitioned the court for leave to propound said paper writing as and for the last will of decedent, and an order was passed by the court below authorizing this to be done. Thereafter a decree was passed framing issues upon the caveat, to be tried by a jury. The issues were five in number and were as follows:

"1. Was the paper writing dated April 27, 1898, the last will and testament of said Loraine Lipphard?"

"2. Was the said writing executed and attested in due form, as required by law?"

"3. At the time of the execution of said paper writing, was the said Loraine Lipphard of sound and disposing mind and capable of making a valid deed or contract?"

"4. Was said writing procured by fraud or undue influence, practiced upon her by any person or persons?"

"5. Was the signature of the said Loraine Lipphard procured by force exercised upon her by any person or persons?"

Barnard, J., presiding at the trial of the issues, directed the jury to find the third, fourth, and fifth issues in favor of the caveatees, on the ground that the evidence was insufficient to warrant the jury in finding a verdict thereon in favor of the caveators. The first and second issues were submitted to the jury with instructions by the court to the effect that, unless the jury believed that the contents of the paper were known to testatrix at the time of execution, they should find for the caveators. If, however, they should find from the evidence that testatrix did know the contents of the paper, and did sign the same by her mark in the presence of witnesses, who signed the same as witnesses in her presence, the verdict should be in favor of the caveatees. The jury found the issues in favor of the caveatees, and the will was accordingly admitted to probate and record May 3, 1906.

From this decree the caveators appealed to the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia (28 App.D.C. 355), which affirmed the decree of the Supreme Court of the District, and thereupon the case was brought to this Court.

Page 209 U. S. 266

The paper writing in controversy was witnessed by three credible witnesses, all of whom testified as witnesses for the caveatees. From their testimony it appeared that, on the twenty-seventh day of April, 1898, Mrs. Loraine Lipphard brought the writing to the office of Miss Parker, one of the attesting witnesses, with whom she had long been acquainted, and told her that it was her last will and testament, and that she wanted it attested by three witnesses. Two other witnesses with whom she was also acquainted, one of them for forty years, were procured, and, all three being present, testatrix declared the paper writing to be her will and signed it by her mark thereto in the presence of all the witnesses, and they signed their names thereto as attesting witnesses in her presence. The testatrix was at the time of sound mind and capable of making a valid deed or will. The will was not read in the presence of the witnesses, and after the testatrix had subscribed her "mark" and the will had been witnessed, it was handed to her and she took it away with her. After Mrs. Lipphard's death, the will was produced by Rev. Mr. Meador and given by him to an attorney, who lodged it in the office of the register of wills.

Evidence was adduced on the trial on behalf of the caveators that Mrs. Lipphard could not read or write, and she was a licensed midwife and had a great number of cases; that the title to the real estate devised by the will was originally in her husband; that in March, 1857, he put a trust on the property, and it was subsequently sold thereunder; that he afterward took title to the property and again it was sold, and then the title was taken in the wife's name. The husband's testimony tended to show that he was improvident. Testatrix was an energetic woman and a good wife. Part of the property when purchased was vacant land. In 1894, this land was improved by two houses. Testatrix made the contract for the erection of these houses and attended to the building of the same. The husband and wife had lived happily together for sixty-five years.

Page 209 U. S. 267

The will devised and bequeathed the entire estate of the testatrix to the Rev. Chastain C. Meador in trust: (1) to pay all funeral expenses and debts; (2) for the use of her husband, Adolph F. Lipphard, during his life; (3) to pay the expenses of said husband's last illness and funeral; (4) upon the death of the husband, to divide the same among children named, according to the directions therein contained, the trustee also being appointed executor. The real estate consisted of three lots, two of which were specifically devised to the two daughters.

Page 209 U. S. 268

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