Adams v. Cowen

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Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

177 U.S. 471

Adams  v.  Cowen

 Argued: January 9, 10, 1899. ---

Affirmed by Divided Court May 22, 1899. [See Book 43, p. 1188.]

Leave granted to file petition for rehearing May 22, 1899.

Rehearing granted October 30, 1899.

Reargued January 10, 11, 1900.

Decided April 16, 1900.

On November 16, 1891, the respondents, trustees for the wife and children of William Means, filed their bill in the circuit court of the United States for the district of Kentucky against the petitioners as administrators (with the will annexed) of Thomas W. Means, deceased, and John Means, a son of said Thomas W. Means. The case passed to hearing in that court upon pleadings and proofs, and resulted in a decree, on July 31, 1895, in favor of the defendants, dismissing the bill. From such dismissal the plaintiffs appealed to the circuit court of appeals for the sixth circuit, which court, on February 8, 1897, reversed the decree of dismissal, and entered a decree in favor of the plaintiffs. 47 U.S. App. 439, 78 Fed. Rep. 536, 24 C. C. A. 198, 47 U.S. App. 676, 80 Fed. Rep. 448, 25 C. C. A. 547. On May 24, 1897, a petition was filed in this court for a certiorari, which was allowed, and on December 6, 1897, the certiorari and return were duly filed. At the October term, 1898, of this court, after argument and on May 22, 1899, the decree of the Circuit Court of Appeals was affirmed by a divided court. Thereafter, upon petition, a rehearing was ordered, and the case was argued at the present term before a full bench.

The facts are these: Thomas W. Means, a resident of Ashland, Kentucky, died there on June 8, 1890, leaving an estate consisting chiefly of personal property, which was appraised (including the notes of his son, William Means for $136,035.75) at $752,302.44. He left four children, John Means, William Means, Margaret A. Means, and Mary A. Adams, and one grandson, Thomas M. Culbertson, the only child of a deceased daughter. Some ten years prior to his death, and on July 20, 1880, he made a will, in which, after provisions for the payment of his debts, funeral expenses, and expenses of administration, were these two items:

'Item 4. I give, devise, and bequeath all the residue and remainder of my estate, personal, real, and mixed, wherever situated or located, of which I shall die possessed, to be equally divided among my four children, John Means, William Means, Mary A. Adams, and Margaret A. Means, and my grandson, Thomas M. Culbertson (son and sole heir of my deceased daughter, Sarah Jane Culbertson), who shall be living at the time of my decease, and the issue of any child now living, and of said grandson, who may then have deceased, such issue taking the share to which such child or grandson would be entitled if living. But said share given, devised, and bequeathed to said grandson or his issue is to be held in trust as hereinafter provided, and to be subject to the provisions hereinafter contained as to said grandson's share.

'Item 5. I have made advances to my said children which are charged to them respectively on my books, and I may make further advances to them respectively, or to some of them, and to my said grandson, which may be charged on my books to their respective accounts. I desire the equal provision, herein made for said children, and the provision for said grandson, to be a provision for them respectively, in addition to said advances made and that may hereafter be made, and that in the division, distribution, and settlement of my said estate said advances made and that may hereafter be made, be treated, not as advancements, but as gifts not in any manner to be accounted for by my said children and grandson, or any of them, or the issue of any of them.' Thomas W. Means was a prosperous iron manufacturer, who had, as stated, accumulated in his lifetime a large estate. For many years he had been in the habit of letting his children have money. This he had been doing for at least twenty-five years before the making of the will. This money was not given to them in equal sums at regular or irregular intervals. In other words, he was not making a partial and equal distribution of his estate in advance of his death, but the money was paid to or for one or another of his children as occasion seemed to call for it. Accounts were entered with each of these children in his books, and the money thus paid to or for them was charged against them in these accounts, so that upon the face of the books they stood as debtors to him for the amounts so charged. The amounts thus charged were sometimes large. The accounts were often reduced by money or property returned to the father. So the father dealt separately with each child, letting him or her have money whenever in his judgment the interest of the child called for it. He was helping them in their business, paying their debts, and otherwise using his large properties for their benefit. At the same time the accounts were kept in his books in such a way as to indicate that he retained a claim against each child for the balance shown on such account. He made memoranda on his books, such as this at the head of John's account: 'This account and the accounts of William Means and Mary A. Adams are not to be charged with interest when final settlement is made, or at any time. Thomas W. Means.' With that as the relation between himself and children, Thomas W. Means made the will containing the two items above quoted. He was then seventy-seven years old. At the date of the will the accounts showed the following debtor balances:

John.............. $79,214 36

William............ 58,409 54

Mrs. Adams......... 51,207 48

Margaret........... 39,120 78

Mrs. Culbertson.... 29,609 82

In 1888 a bank in Cincinnati, of which William was president, failed, a failure which brought financial ruin to William. To relieve him from the embarrassment and dangers whch threatened by reason of such failure, a large sum of money was paid out by Thomas W. Means for William's benefit. The question presented in this case is whether the money thus paid out is to be held a part of William's share of his father's estate, or whether it is to be deducted from the estate and the division made of the balance between the five legatees.

Mr. Lawrence Maxwell, Jr., for petitioners.

Messrs. Judson Harmon, J. J. Glidden and H. P. Whitaker for respondents.

Mr. Justice Brewer delivered the opinion of the court:


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).