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Wilson v. Flowers

Decided: May 10, 1971.

DONALD L. WILSON, LOUIS STERNBACH AND PLAINFIELD TRUST STATE NATIONAL BANK, CO-EXECUTORS AND CO-TRUSTEES UNDER THE WILL OF JOSEPH L. K. SNYDER, DECEASED, PLAINTIFFS-RESPONDENTS,
v.
SARA LOUISE FLOWERS, ANNA DOUDS SNYDER, EXECUTRIX UNDER THE WILL OF JACOB MARCHAND SNYDER, DECEASED, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS, AND GEORGE F. KUGLER, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF NEW JERSEY, DEFENDANT



For affirmance -- Chief Justice Weintraub and Justices Jacobs, Francis, Proctor, Hall and Schettino. For reversal -- None. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Proctor, J.

Proctor

[58 NJ Page 251] This is a will construction case. Plaintiffs, trustees under the will of Joseph L. K. Snyder, filed a complaint in the Chancery Division seeking instructions regarding

the validity of Article Sixth (C)(12) of the testator's residuary trust of his will which directs them, inter alia, to contribute 20% of the residue "to such philanthropic causes as my Trustees may select" (emphasis added).

Defendants are the next-of-kin of the testator,*fn1 and the Attorney General of New Jersey. The latter did not participate in the litigation.

After a hearing, Judge Mintz held that the plaintiffs had established the testator's probable intent that the gifts to "philanthropic causes" be solely charitable in nature. Thus, the gifts were not void and did not pass by intestate succession. Judgment directed 1) that the plaintiffs "shall contribute solely to charitable purposes the income to be disposed under Article Sixth (C)(12) of" the will, 2) that "the dispositions * * * do not violate the rule against perpetuities," and 3) that plaintiffs-trustees "in making contributions to philanthropic causes pursuant to Article Sixth (C)(12) of said will are restricted solely to charities which qualify as charities under Section 2055(a)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code*fn2 and N.J.S.A. 54:34-4(d),*fn3 as presently amended."

Defendants next-of-kin appealed to the Appellate Division and prior to argument there, we certified the case on our own motion.

The primary issue on this appeal is whether the testator, in using the term "philanthropic causes," intended to limit his bounty to charitable causes or whether he intended the term to have a broader meaning. If the trust is not limited to charitable purposes, it is void either for uncertainty or for a violation of the rule against perpetuities. Kitchen v. Pitney, 94 N.J. Eq. 485 (E. & A. 1923); Sheen v. Sheen, 126 N.J. Eq. 132, 140 (Ch. 1939); Hegeman's Ex'rs. v. Roome, 70 N.J. Eq. 562 (Ch. 1905). Defendants contend that the trust is void and that it should pass to them by intestate succession.

On February 28, 1965, Joseph L. K. Snyder died leaving a Will dated September 30, 1960 and a Codicil thereto dated December 18, 1964.*fn4 Both were probated on March 29, 1965. By Articles First Through Fifth the testator directed that his taxes, debts and other expenses be paid and that certain modest legacies be given to named individuals. The great bulk of his estate was disposed of by Article Sixth, which deals with the residuary. By this provision he bequeathed his residuary estate in trust, with directions to pay the income

therefrom to three individuals for life (no beneficiary to receive income exceeding an average of $25,000 per year over a period of five consecutive years). Under Subsections (1) to (12) of Section (C) of Article Sixth the decedent directed that the balance of principal and accumulated income of the residuary estate be continued "in perpetual trust" and that the net income be distributed to the beneficiaries in the following proportions:

(1) 25% to Franklin and Marshall College for the education of needy and deserving students.

(2) 10% to the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Church of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to be used for disabled or retired ministers and their widows.

(3) 10% to the same seminary for the education of needy and deserving students.

(4) 5% to the American Cancer Society, Inc.

(5) 2 1/2% to Muhlenberg Hospital of Plainfield, New Jersey.

(6) 2 1/2% to The Community Chest of Plainfield and North Plainfield.

(7) 2 1/2% to the Crescent Avenue Presbyterian Church ...


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