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FULLER v. FULLER (01/05/53)

January 5, 1953


Appeal, No. 179, Jan. T., 1952, from decree of Court of Common Pleas No. 4 of Philadelphia County, Sept. T., 1950, No. 3818, in case of Walter J. Fuller, Admr., Estate of Minnie J. Fuller, deceased, v. Lawrence J. Fuller. Decree affirmed.


George W. McKeag, with him R. J. Cleary and Philips, Farran & McKeag, for appellant.

Frank O. Schilpp, with him Rambo & Mair, for appellee.

Before Stern, C.j., Stearne, Jones, Bell, Chidsey and Musmanno, JJ.

Author: Chidsey

[ 372 Pa. Page 241]


Minnie J. Fuller died on July 1, 1948 at the age of 92 years, intestate, leaving as her only heirs her two sons, Walter J. Fuller and Lawrence J. Fuller, to both of whom letters of administration on her estate were duly granted. Walter J. Fuller filed a bill in equity as one of the administrators of the decedent's estate praying that the defendant Lawrence J. Fuller be ordered to pay to the administrators of the estate a balance of $9,018.85 remaining at the time of the decedent's death in an account at the Girard Trust Company of Philadelphia and similar balances of $1,753.46 and $175.82 respectively in two accounts at the Sewickley Branch of the Peoples-Pittsburgh Trust Company (now Peoples First National Bank and Trust Company); and that the defendant also be ordered to account for all sums drawn upon the Girard Trust Company account during the lifetime of the decedent, and to pay to her estate all withdrawals which were not used solely for the decedent's benefit. All of the accounts mentioned were held in the joint names of the decedent and Lawrence J. Fuller, with right of survivorship. They were initially created by transfers from individual bank accounts of the decedent. No monies then or thereafter were contributed to the accounts by the defendant. The account in the Girard Trust Company was created on February 24, 1945 when an agreement supplied by the bank was signed by the

[ 372 Pa. Page 242]

    decedent and defendant which provided that the sums held in the joint account should belong to them as joint tenants and not as tenants in common, checks for orders against which might be drawn by each of them. It also contained the following language: "In case of the death of any of the undersigned, the balance in the joint account shall belong to the survivors or survivor, and Girard Trust Company may deal with the survivors or survivor as sole and absolute owners or owner thereof". The transfers at the Pittsburgh bank were made after cards furnished by the bank were signed by Mrs. Fuller and the defendant on September 14, 1946, which provided: "It is agreed and understood that any and all sums that may from time to time stand on this account to the credit of the undersigned depositors, shall be taken and deemed to belong to them as joint tenants and not as tenants in common; while both joint tenants are living, either may draw and in case of the death of either, this Bank is hereby authorized and directed to deal with the survivor as sole and absolute owner thereof.".

Plaintiff alleged in his bill that defendant caused the decedent to make the transfers into the joint accounts by coercion, intimidation and undue influence and by the making of fraudulent and false representations at a time when the decedent was 88 years of age and in a state of mental confusion and disturbed condition; also that a confidential relationship existed between defendant and his mother. Defendant filed a responsive answer denying all of the material allegations in plaintiff's bill. After hearing on the merits, the chancellor entered a decree nisi in favor of the defendant. After the overruling of exceptions by the court en banc, a final decree was entered on March 5, 1952 affirming the chancellor and dismissing the bill. Plaintiff appeals therefrom.

[ 372 Pa. Page 243]

The decedent, Mrs. Fuller, who had lived in or near Pittsburgh, went to Atlantic City for her health in 1941. She stayed at the Hotel Dennis until 1942 when that hotel was taken over by the United States government. She then moved to a nursing home in Atlantic City where she remained until her death. She was the widow of an army officer who died in 1902 and from the testimony, unquestionably was an educated, well traveled and intelligent woman who displayed an active interest in social affairs, politics and current events. She was very much attached to the defendant, who lived in or near Philadelphia, and to his two daughters. The defendant frequently visited his mother at Atlantic City and he and his wife helped the decedent in making out checks and in other business matters of a minor nature, and, as well in some personal matters. It appears, however, that decedent transacted her own important business affairs until the time of her death, including the negotiation for and consummation of the sale of her former residence at Edgeworth, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, in September of 1946. The other son, Walter J. Fuller, the plaintiff, who was childless, resided in Pittsburgh and only visited his mother five or six times during the last five or six years of her life. The defendant was apparently very considerate and helpful to his mother while she was in Atlantic City and it was not unnatural that she should have extended her bounty to him, especially because of her manifested deep interest in his two children.

Decedent left a gross estate of something over $13,000, exclusive of the three joint bank accounts. During her lifetime she received income from a trust fund, the principal of which amounted to $34,000 in an account stated as of March 6, 1951, and ...

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