Appeal, No. 253, Jan. T., 1948, from decree of Court of Common Pleas No. 2 of Philadelphia County, June T., 1947, No. 5502, in case of Edward J. Schellentrager v. Tradesmens National Bank and Trust Company. Decree reversed.
William Carson Bodine, with him David Chew Stephenson, John D. M. Hamilton, Henry L. Shepard and Pepper, Bodine, Stokes and Hamilton, for appellant.
Rodney I. Bonsall, with him Evans, Bayard & Frick, for appellee.
Before Drew, C.j., Stearne, Jones, Bell, Chidsey and Musmanno, JJ.
OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE JONES
In 1927 Edward J. Schellentrager, the plaintiff, executed a deed of trust to the Guarantee Trust and Safe Deposit Company, of Philadelphia, as trustee, in favor of certain named beneficiaries. Subsequent to the execution and delivery of the trust deed, the defendant, Tradesmens National Bank and Trust Company, accepted the trust and assumed the duties of trustee thereunder. The deed of trust contains the following presently material provision: "Settlor expressly declares that this trust is irrevocable but the right is reserved to Settlor to direct during his lifetime, any variations in the manner and amounts in which the income shall be best applied for the benefit of any beneficiary or beneficiaries, and also the right to eliminate any beneficiary or beneficiaries entirely and to substitute other beneficiaries under this trust if he should so desire." The deed also contains a spend-thrift provision with respect to both income and corpus.
The plaintiff, as settlor, exercised the above-quoted power six times. By his latest supplementary amendment, which was made on June 21, 1947, he eliminated all beneficiaries named in the deed of trust and in his prior amendments and substituted himself both as the sole life tenant and remainderman. He then filed his bill in equity in the court below seeking termination of the trust and the return of the trust res to himself. The case was heard on bill and answer by the court
below which entered a decree dismissing the bill on the ground that the trust was irrevocable and gave the settlor no right to revoke or alter the designation of remaindermen.
The learned court below erred in concluding that the power to change beneficiaries was intended to be operative only with respect to the beneficiaries of the trust income. No logical basis for any such restrictive meaning of the term is apparent. Words are to be interpreted according to their usual and generally accepted meaning in the absence of a clear intent to the contrary. No such intent appears here. In the case of a trust, a beneficiary is one who has the enjoyment of or ultimate right to the property whereof the trustee for the duration of the trust has the legal title. Accordingly, the remaindermen of a trust are beneficiaries therof as are the life tenants.In Witman v. Webner, 351 Pa. 503, 507, 41 A.2d 686, we said that, "It is well settled that if a person qualifies within the exact meaning of language describing a class he will be held to be a member of that class unless other language in the instrument expressly or by clear implication indicates a contrary intent."
The fact that the deed declared the trust to be irrevocable did not automatically make it so. It was only as irrevocable as the terms of the deed in operation permitted it to be. In any event, to say aribitrarily that the trust was irrevocable solely because of the declaration in the deed to that effect furnishes no reason for holding that the settlor's right to change beneficiaries was meant to include only income beneficiaries. On the contrary, the settlor's right to change remaindermen during his lifetime is the very thing that saves the trust from being ...