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STANGER v. EPLER (06/27/55)

June 27, 1955

STANGER
v.
EPLER, APPELLANT.



Appeal, No. 124, Jan. T., 1955, from decree of Court of Common Pleas No. 5 of Philadelphia County, Dec. T., 1953, No. 2463, in case of Stanley T. Stanger v. Marie Callahan Epler, also known as Mary Callahan Epler, and Beneficial Saving Society of Philadelphia. Decree reversed.

COUNSEL

Maxwell L. Davis, with him j. Sydney Hoffman, for appellant.

John T. Curtin, with him Harry a. Demar and Smythe, Straub & Thistle, for appellee.

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

Author: Stearne

[ 382 Pa. Page 412]

OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE ALLEN M. STEARNE

[ 382 Pa. Page 413]

The question raised by this appeal is whether a gift of a half interest in a fund of money by creation of a joint bank account was in contemplation of marriage and conditioned upon such marriage.

A summary of the salient facts appears in the opinion of the court below: "The evidence shows that the plaintiff [Stanley T. Stanger], now a man of 70 years, a retired railroad employee living on a pension, moved into the home of the defendant [Marie Callahan Epler] as a boarder in 1933. After a short time the parties discussed marriage between them. The defendant at the time was incapable of marriage because she had a living husband. The plaintiff and defendant on July 3, 1947, opened a joint account in the Beneficial Saving Society with the funds of the plaintiff. The Saving Society had them sign a signature card reading, 'Stanley T. Stanger or Marie E. Callahan-Friend.' The funds of the plaintiff so deposited was in the sum of $5,899.62. The Chancellor found that such funds were deposited by plaintiff in contemplation of marriage. With this finding we agree. In August, 1947, the defendant, with the consent of the plaintiff, withdrew from said account the sum of $1,500 to complete a settlement for the purchase of premises situate in Laurel Springs, New Jersey, title to which was taken in the name of the defendant. This sum was advanced by plaintiff for the purchase of the property to be used as a home for the parties when married, or if not married, then as a loan to defendant. When the defendant was advised in 1949 that her then husband had divorced her, she imposed such conditions on the plaintiff which were impossible for him to meet. On June 18, 1950, the defendant married Charles Epler, who was also a boarder in her home. At all times the defendant has retained the possession of the deposit book and has refused to return it or any of the money to

[ 382 Pa. Page 414]

    the plaintiff. The Chancellor after a full hearing of this case, granted the prayers of the Bill and ordered the return to the plaintiff of all the funds now on deposit, and for the defendant to pay to plaintiff the sum of $1,850.00 plus interest." The hearing Judge, affirmed by the court in banc, decided that plaintiff had made a gift of an interest in the joint bank account to the defendant which was "conditioned upon the marriage" of plaintiff and defendant; that the parol evidence of such conditional gift was "clear, precise and indubitable"; and since defendant refused to marry plaintiff - but married another - he directed the defendant to return the amount of such conditional gift to plaintiff.

When plaintiff and defendant opened the bank account in their joint names with plaintiff's money, they executed an agreement wherein they agree "... that any and all sums that may from time to time stand in this account, to the credit of the undersigned depositors, shall be taken and considered as belonging to them as joint tenants and not as tenants in common; ..." This written agreement constituted prima facie evidence of a valid inter vivos gift by plaintiff to defendant of an undivided one-half interest in the joint account: Culhane's Estate, 334 Pa. 124, 5 A.2d 377; Fell Estate, 369 Pa. 597, 87 A.2d 310; Fuller v. Fuller, 372 Pa. 239, 93 A.2d 462. Plaintiff concedes that when he opened the bank account he was fully aware of the effect of his action. Cf. Lochinger v. Hanlon, 348 Pa. 29, 33 A.2d 1.

While such an agreement and opening of the account is prima facie evidence of ownership, parol evidence of intention may be permitted not to alter or vary the terms of the agreement, but to show that the gift was a conditional gift: Eaton v. ...


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