The above-entitled cases involve title to five joint bank accounts originally in the name of Margaret Conle, deceased. The cases were tried consecutively as they involve a common question of law and fact, and the same defendant. An order was entered providing that the testimony taken in the Crystal case be available to the court insofar as applicable and relevant to the Steffen case.
Mrs. Conle was elderly. She had been married, but her husband had been missing for a number of years. The plaintiff, William Steffen, was her nephew and his sister,
Emily Eastman, was her niece. Mrs. Conle conducted a nursing home in the Town of Belleville. For 20 years the plaintiff, Lena Crystal, had been in her employ at a wage of $15 per week -- cleaning, washing, ironing, caring for patients, even firing the furnace. She, too, had been married, but her husband had died. She has a grown daughter who from the time she was ten years of age lived with her mother and the decedent as a member of decedent's household.
The Crystal case concerns title to four bank accounts, three in the name of "Margaret Conle or Lena Crystal" and the fourth in the name of "Margaret Conle and Lena Crystal." Mrs. Crystal claims title as surviving joint tenant and as donee, while the defendant claims title as executor of the estate of Margaret Conle, deceased. Initially, the four accounts were in the name of Margaret Conle and the moneys deposited therein were her funds. However, on October 31, 1949, she changed two of the bank accounts, and on November 9, 1949, a third bank account, from her individual name into joint accounts payable to Margaret Conle or Lena Crystal. Both of them signed appropriate signature cards with the banks, by which it was contracted that the moneys on deposit were to be in their joint names as joint tenants, either having full power to draw any or all moneys on deposit, and on the death of one, the survivor was to take all. On November 15, 1949, the fourth bank account was likewise changed, except that it read "Margaret Conle and Lena Crystal." No further deposits were made in any of the accounts and the only withdrawals therefrom were of accrued interest.
The Steffen case involves title to a bank account in the National Newark & Essex Banking Co., in which on November 9, 1949, there was a balance of $10,118.75. On that day, the same day she changed one of the Crystal accounts, Mrs. Conle changed the account to read "Margaret Conle or William W. Steffen -- Joint Account -- Payable to either or the survivor." She procured two signature cards from the bank and she signed one; the other she gave to Mrs. William W. Steffen, who had accompanied her to the bank, to take home for her
husband's signature. The signature cards were filed with the bank and contain the following contract:
"Either joint owner may make withdrawals during their joint lives. On the death of either, the balance shall be the property of and may be withdrawn by, the survivor subject to New Jersey inheritance Tax law requirements * * *."
When Mrs. Conle returned from the various banks after having changed the accounts as aforesaid, she delivered all the bankbooks to Lena Crystal and they remained in her possession until after Mrs. Conle's death, except for one occasion when they were taken to the banks for the entry and withdrawal of interest; they were promptly returned to Mrs. Crystal and the interest money given to her.
With respect to the account in the joint names of Margaret Conle and William W. Steffen, on April 24, 1950, Mrs. Conle got the bankbook from Mrs. Crystal for the purpose of withdrawing $5,000 with which to purchase a bond as a gift for her niece, Emily Eastman. The accrued interest on the account amounted to $31.25, which added to the previous balance of $10,118.75 made a total of $10,150. Mrs. Conle withdrew the sum of $5,150 and used $5,000 to purchase a bond for Emily Eastman. A balance of $5,000 remained in the joint account. Upon her arrival home, she returned this bankbook to Mrs. Crystal, who testified: "Mrs. Conle told me that she wanted Mr. Steffen to have that bankbook. She said I should put it away with mine and said I should see that he got his and I got mine." On cross-examination, she testified as follows: "Q. Were her exact words, ...