Adams v. Adams,
88 U.S. 185 (1874)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Adams v. Adams, 88 U.S. 21 Wall. 185 185 (1874)

Adams v. Adams

88 U.S. (21 Wall.) 185


1. When on a bill by a wife against her husband to establish a deed of trust to a third party in her favor, and now in the husband's possession, which deed she alleges that he executed and delivered, the husband, in an answer responsive to her bill, denies that he did deliver it, his denial comes to nothing if he admit in the same answer certain facts, as, ex gr., that he signed and sealed it, acknowledged it before a proper magistrate, and put it upon record -- facts which of themselves may, under the circumstances of the case, constitute a delivery. In such a case, he denies the law simply.

2. When husband and wife join in making a deed of property belonging to him to a third party in trust for the wife, the fact that such party was not in the least cognizant of what was done, and never heard of nor saw

Page 88 U. S. 186

the deed until long afterwards, when he at once refused to accept the trust or in any way to act in it, does not affect the transaction as between the husband and wife.

3. A deed by husband and wife conveying by formal words in praesenti a portion of his real property in trust to a third party for the wife's separate use, signed, sealed, and acknowledged by both parties, all in form and put on record in the appropriate office by the husband, and afterwards spoken of by him to her and to other persons as a provision which he had made for her and her children against accident, here sustained as such trust in her favor, in the face of his answer that he never "delivered " the deed, and that owing to the disturbed and revolutionary character of the times (the rebellion then, August, 1861, apparently waxing strong), and the threatened condition of the federal city and other contingencies growing out of the war, he had caused the deed to be made and partially executed, so that upon short notice he could deliver it and make it effectual, retaining in the meantime the control of the title, and that he had himself put it on record, and that it had never been out of his possession except for the time necessary to have it recorded. This decision made, though the person named in the deed as trustee never heard of the deed until years afterwards, when he was called on by the wife, she being then divorced from her husband, to assert the trust.

Adams, a government clerk, in Washington, owning a house and lot there, on the 13th of August, 1861, executed, with his wife, a deed of the premises to one Appleton, in fee, as trustee for the wife. The deed by appropriate words in praesenti conveyed, so far as its terms were concerned, the property for the sole and separate use of the wife for life, with power to lease and to take the rents for her own use as if she was a feme sole, the trustee having power, on request of the wife, to sell and convey the premises in fee and pay the proceeds to her or as she might direct, and after her death (no sale having been made), the trust being that the trustee should hold the property for the children of the marriage as tenants in common, and in default of issue living at the death of the wife, then for Adams, the husband, his heirs and assigns.

The deed was signed by the grantors, and the husband acknowledged it before two justices "to be his act and

Page 88 U. S. 187

deed." The wife did the same, being separately examined. The instrument purported to be "signed, sealed, and delivered" in the presence of the same justices, and they signed it as attesting witnesses. The husband put it himself on record in the Registry of Deeds for the County of Washington, D.C., which was the appropriate place of record for it.

Subsequent to this -- that is to say in September, 1870 -- the husband and wife were divorced by judicial decree.

And subsequently to this again -- that is to say in December, 1871 -- the husband being in possession of the deed and denying that any trust was ever created and executed, and Appleton, on the wife's request, declining to assert the trust or to act as trustee, Mrs. Adams filed a bill in the court below against them both to establish the deed as a settlement made upon her by her husband, to compel a delivery of it to her, to remove Appleton, the trustee named in it, and to have some suitable person appointed trustee in his place.

The bill alleged the making of the indenture on the day of its date, set forth the trusts as above given, appended a copy of it as part of the bill, alleged the fact and place of record of the original, and averred that the original indenture, after being duly signed, sealed, acknowledged, and delivered by the parties thereto, was recorded at the exclusive expense and express instance and request of the husband, Adams, who afterwards, as the friend of the complainant and the agent of Appleton, the trustee, obtained possession of the original, which was still in his custody or under his control.

The bill further alleged the dissolution of the marriage by law and that the complainant, relying upon the provisions of the deed referred to, neither sought nor obtained alimony in that suit, and further that she had accepted and still accepted the benefits of the trust; that Appleton declined to act as trustee, to allow the use of his name, or in any way to aid her in the matter; that her husband, the defendant, was in possession, receiving the rents and profits, and declined to acknowledge her rights in the premises.

Adams, the husband, after denying that the allegation of

Page 88 U. S. 188

the bill was true in manner and form as stated, answered as follows:

"I admit that a certain indenture was made, but it never was executed and delivered to the said Appleton, or to any other person in his behalf, or to his use, either by myself or by any person whatever. I never at any time intended to deliver said deed so as to render it valid and effectual in law, but designedly retained said deed in my own possession without any delivery whatever."

"I admit that I placed said deed on record in the Registry of Deeds of the County of Washington, and it never has been not of my possession except for the time it was necessary to be recorded."

"I admit and aver the fact to be that, owing to the disturbed and revolutionary character of the times and the threatened condition of the City of Washington, and other contingencies growing out of the state of war then existing, I caused said deed to be made and partially executed, so that upon short notice, I could deliver it and make it effectual, or make such other changes of the title as I might think proper growing out of any changed circumstances, retaining in the meantime the future control of the title to the same; that said deed was not delivered to my then wife, nor did I intend to make it a settlement upon her; that I have kept and maintained possession of the premises, making in the meantime extensive repairs and improvements upon the property, paying the taxes and insurance, and collecting the rents issuing from the same, and I most emphatically deny the existence of any such trust as the plaintiff in her bill of complaint alleges to exist and seeks the aid of this court to enforce."

Appleton also answered, alleging that if any such deed as described was executed, it was executed without his knowledge or consent; that no such deed was ever delivered to him, and that he never accepted any trust imposed by it; that he was never informed of the existence of the deed till 1870, when he was informed of it by the complainant, and that he then declined to act as trustee.

Mrs. Adams, the complainant, was examined as a witness. She stated that the defendant told her that he wanted to

Page 88 U. S. 189

make over this house to her and her children, to be for their sole and entire use while she lived and for the children after her death. She stated further that she had entire confidence in her husband, so much so that she never took the paper, but left it in his possession, thinking that her interests were perfectly safe in his hands; that she saw it frequently, and that there was nothing to prevent her taking possession of it; that this deed was a frequent subject of conversation between her husband and herself, and that he always spoke of it as making the property over to her during her lifetime, and to her children after her death, and that the deed was always understood between them to be good and valid. None of these statements was denied by Mr. Adams.

Testimony of the same character was given by other witnesses. One (the brother of the complainant) testified that the defendant told him emphatically that the house and lot were made over to the complainant as her property as a provision for the support of herself and children against accidents. This witness specified three different occasions on which these statements were made, giving the details of the conversations. The defendant made no denial of these statements.

Another witness (a sister-in-law of the complainant) gave testimony to the same purport, giving one conversation in detail. No denial of her statements was made by the defendant.

There were no other witnesses. Neither of the defendants testified.

The court below declared the trust valid and effective in equity as between the parties, appointed a new trustee; required the husband to deliver up the deed to the wife or to the new trustee, and to deliver also to him possession of the premises described in the deed of trust, and to account before the master for the rents and profits of it which had accrued since the filing of the bill, receiving credit for any payment made to the complainant in the meantime, and to pay the complainant's costs of the suit.

From a decree accordingly, the husband appealed.

Page 88 U. S. 190

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