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Zwoyer v. Hackensack Trust Co.

Decided: April 12, 1960.

HENRIETTE ZWOYER, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
HACKENSACK TRUST COMPANY, CO-EXECUTOR AND SOLE TRUSTEE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS



Goldmann, Conford and Haneman. The opinion of the court was delivered by Haneman, J.A.D.

Haneman

Plaintiff Henriette Zwoyer appeals from that portion of the Chancery Division judgment entered on September 25, 1959 holding that a patent application for an invention owned by the decedent testator, Walter R. Zwoyer, husband of plaintiff, and certain license agreements for the use of said invention were not comprehended within a bequest to her in the seventh paragraph of the will of "all of my personal chattels except cash and securities." The trial court concluded that the intent of the will was that all income-producing assets of the decedent should be placed in the trust set up in the residuary clause of the will by testator for the benefit of the wife and of his daughters and grandchildren and that the said patent rights and contracts therefore were allocable to the trust rather than to the specific bequest.

Testator, a resident of New Jersey, died on May 1, 1958, having executed a last will and testament on July 31, 1954. In 1934 while an employee of the Henry Heide Company (Heide), testator invented a machine known as a flexible automatic packaging machine. The machine was manufactured and sold by Transparent Wrapping Machine Corporation (Transparent), a separately formed corporation, in which testator owned 20% of the stock and Heide owned the remaining 80%. On April 30, 1955 Transparent was sold to Package Machinery Corporation (Package) and testator became a consultant with that company. Until that date every patent applied for by testator was automatically assigned to Transparent. After he became consultant with Package, whatever inventions he developed other

than the one here in dispute were assigned to that company. A separate and distinct invention for an improved scale feed, useful in connection with the original automatic packaging machine, was developed by testator while he was with Package, but was not assigned because it was developed under a special arrangement with that company.

On March 25, 1957 testator filed a patent application for his improved scale feed and thereafter, on January 20, 1958, he entered into a license arrangement with Package concerning the manufacture and sale of said invention in certain areas. In short, until the year 1955 testator's interest in any of his inventions or the accompanying patents and license agreements was represented solely by his stock ownership in Transparent.

On August 6, 1958 plaintiff instituted the present action seeking a construction of the last will and testament of her deceased husband. The interpretation of the seventh paragraph of said will is here in dispute. The testator therein bequeathed "all my personal chattels except cash and securities, unto my wife, Henriette Zwoyer, * * *." All the rest, residue and remainder of testator's estate was, under the eighth paragraph of his will, devised and bequeathed to the Hackensack Trust Company in trust for the benefit of his wife, daughters and grandchildren. The specific question raised by this appeal is whether the pending application for patent rights and the license agreement issued under said application are to be regarded as "personal chattels other than cash and securities." If so, they go directly to plaintiff; if not, under the terms of the eighth paragraph of testator's will, they fall into the trust estate.

It is fundamental that a will should be construed so as to accomplish the purpose of the testator, and any interpretation which would defeat it must be rejected. Watson v. Brower , 24 N.J. 210 (1957). Courts need not and should not submit to the "tyranny of labels," but rather should strive to ascertain and effectuate, if lawful, the overriding plan and purpose of the testator as gathered from

the language of his entire will and the attendant circumstances. Busch v. Plews , 12 N.J. 352 (1953). All other rules of will construction must yield to this cardinal principle, basic in our law, that the intention of the testator as expressed in his will shall prevail. Child v. Orton , 119 N.J. Eq. 438 (Ch. 1936).

"The judicial interpretive function is to find the meaning of the testator as expressed in the language used, considered in the light of the attendant circumstances and effectuate it. In re Fisler's Estate , 133 N.J. Eq. 421 (E. & A. 1943). Extrinsic evidence is not admissible to vary, enlarge, or contradict the terms of a will, for that would set at naught the statutory mandate that testamentary dispositions be in writing and attested by witnesses. But, in aid of the testatorial intention, evidence is admissible to place the construing court in the situation of the testator at the time of the execution of the will. For the purpose of determining 'the object of a testator's bounty, or the subject of disposition, or the quantity of interest intended to be given by his will, a court may inquire into every material fact relating to the person who claims to be interested under the will, and to the property which is claimed as the subject of disposition, and to the circumstances of the testator, and of his family and affairs, for the purpose of enabling the court to identify the person or thing intended by the testator, or to determine the quantity of interest he has given by his will.' Noice v. Schnell , 101 N.J. Eq. 252, 272 (E. & A. 1927); Vide Griscom v. Evens , 40 N.J.L. 402 (Sup. Ct. 1878), affirmed 42 N.J.L. 579 (E. & A. 1880)." (Emphasis supplied.)

In re Fox' Estate , 4 N.J. 587, 594 (1950). See also In re Armour's Estate , 11 N.J. 257 (1953); In re Goldfaden's Estate , 7 N.J. 450 (1951); In re Hoffman's Estate , 53 N.J. Super. 396 (App. Div. 1959); 5 New Jersey Practice (Clapp, Wills and Administration) , ยง 108, pp. 247, 257 (1950). It should be emphasized that the relevant or attendant circumstances to be considered by the court in construing a will are only those which existed when the will was made and were known to testator, In re Armour's Estate, supra; In re Pleasonton's Estate , 45 N.J. Super. 154, 160 (App. Div. 1957), so as to place the court in the situation of the testator at ...


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