United States v. Fox,
94 U.S. 315 (1876)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Fox, 94 U.S. 315 (1876)

United States v. Fox

94 U.S. 315


1. By a statute of New York, a devise of lands in that state can only be made to natural persona and to such corporations as are created under the laws of the state and are authorized to take by devise. A devise, therefore, of lands in that state to the government of the United States is void.

2. The several states of the Union possess the power to regulate the tenure of real property within their respective limits, the modes of its acquisition and transfer, the rules of its descent, and the extent to which a testamentary disposition of it may be exercised by its owners.

In February, 1870, Charles Fox, of the City of New York, died possessed of certain personal and real property situated in the State of New York. By his last will and testament, he devised and bequeathed the whole property, after the payment of his debts, to the government of the United States for the purpose of assisting to discharge the debt created by the war of the Rebellion. By the government of the United States, the body politic, the nation known as the United States was meant. Upon the petition of the District Attorney of the United States, the will was presented for probate before the Surrogate of the City and County of New York. The infant heirs of the deceased contested the will. The surrogate decreed that the will was inoperative and void as a devise of real estate; that the United States could not lawfully take and hold the real estate as devisee under the will, in trust or otherwise, and that it descended to the heirs-at-law. He at the same time decided that the will was valid and operative as to the personal estate of the testator, and that the United States was the sole legatee, and accordingly admitted the testament to probate as a will of personal estate only. On appeal from the surrogate, this decree was affirmed by the supreme court, and afterwards by the Court of Appeals of the state. The case was then brought here.

Page 94 U. S. 320

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