Overby v. Gordon
The proceedings under review originated in the supreme court of the District of Columbia, by the filing in that court, on January 23, 1896, of a petition on behalf of Mrs. Gordon, the appellee herein. The object of the petition was to obtain the probate, as the last will and testament of Hugh A. Haralson, of a paper purporting to have been executed by Haralson, a copy of which is set out in the margin hereof, and to obtain a grant of letters of administration thereon with the will annexed. It was averred that Haralson, at the time of his death and for several years prior thereto, had been a resident of the District of Columbia, and that he died on August 23, 1895, in the county of De Kalb, state of Georgia, possessed of personal property of the value of about $10,000 all of which, except an insignificant part thereof, was at the time in the District of Columbia. It was further averred that Haralson left surviving, as next of kin, three sisters, and four children of a deceased sister, and that all said next of Kin, except the eldest sister (Elizabeth S. Overby), resided in the state of Georgia. Subsequently, on March 6, 1896, a caveat was filed, purporting in the body thereof to be on behalf of all the next of kin of the decedent other than Mrs. Gordon, but not signed by Mrs. Overby, contesting the validity of the alleged will and the claim that the deceased was at the time of his death a resident of the District of Columbia, and averring that at the time of his death Haralson was a citizen and resident of the state of Georgia.
On April 10, 1896, issues were framed upon the matters put at issue by the caveat, and were ordered to be tried by the court, sitting as a circuit court, and a jury. The questions presented for decision were as follows:
'1. Was the said deceased at the time of his death a resident of the District of Columbia?
'2. Was the said deceased at the time of his death a citizen and resident of the state of Georgia?
'3. Was the said deceased at the time of the making of the paper writing purporting to be his last will and testament a resident of the District of Columbia?
'4. Was the said deceased at the time of the making of the paper writing purporting to be his last will and testament a citizen and resident of the state of Georgia?
'5. At the time of his death did any considerable part of the personal estate of the said deceased lie within the District of Columbia?'
A trial of these issues, however, was not had until February, 1898. At said trial the caveators were represented by attorneys. From a bill of exceptions contained in the record before us it appears that Mrs. Gordon introduced evidence tending to show that both at the date of the testamentary paper in controversy and at the time of his death Haralson was a resident of the District of Columbia. Mrs. Gordon rested her case after the following admissions were made by counsel for caveators:
1. That at his death Haralson had on deposit in two banking institutions in the District of Columbia money and securities approximating $9,000 in amount and value, which was the entire estate of the decedent, with the exception of about $200 found outside of said District; and
2. That said assets within the District of Columbia had been removed therefrom by Logan Bleckley (one of the caveators), claiming to act as administrator of the estate of said decedent, under grant of letters issued in May, 1896, by a court of the state of Georgia, pursuant to proceedings initiated in said court on April 6, 1896.
It is recited in the bill of exceptions that 'to sustain the issues on their part joined,' the caveators offered in evidence a certified transcript of record from the De Kalb court of ordinary, De Kalb county, in the state of Georgia. This record showed the appointment in May, 1896, of Logan Bleckley as administrator.
It is further recited in the bill of exceptions that the transcript referred to was offered as tending to show that the decedent had died a resident of De Kalb county, Georgia, intestate, 'and that Mrs. Gordon was thereby estopped to deny that fact.' The trial court, however, refused to admit the record in evidence, and an exception was duly taken to such refusal. The jury answered 'Yes' to the first, third, and fifth questions submitted to them, and 'No' to the second and fourth questions, thus sustaining the contentions of Mrs. Gordon. The answers were certified to the orphans' court, and thereupon an order was entered admitting the will to probate and record as the last will and testament of the decedent, and letters of administration cum testamento annexo were decreed to issue to Hugh H. Gordon, a son of the petitioner. An appeal was thereupon taken by the caveators to the court of appeals of the District of Columbia. That court affirmed the order of the lower court (Mr. Chief Justice Alvey dissenting), [13 App. D. C. 392], and a writ of error was then sued out from this court.
Messrs. Samuel F. Phillips and Frederic D. McKenney for plaintiffs in error.
Messrs. Charles Cowles Tucker and Henry E. Davis for defendant in error.
Mr. Justice White, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court: