Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Official citation and/or docket number and footnotes (if any) for this case available with purchase.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

CLARK v. CLARK. (06/04/63)


June 4, 1963


Appeal, No. 42, March T., 1963, from orders of Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, April T., 1961, Nos. 3741, 3742 and 4925, July T., 1961, Nos. 3, 4, 74, 94 and 44, in case of Jane C. Clark, individually, and Jane C. Clark, as mother and natural guardian of Linda Clark, a minor, v. J. Leonard Clark, Pittsburgh National Bank, successor by virtue of consolidation and merger to Fidelity Trust Company, Helen M. Twaney et al. Orders affirmed.


Carl Brandt, with him Brandt, Riester, Brandt & Malone, for appellants.

Malcolm Anderson, with him Robert Grier, II and Grier, Duggan, Hampsey & Ludwig, for appellees.

Before Bell, C.j., Musmanno, Jones, Cohen, Eagen, O'brien and Roberts, JJ.

Author: Roberts

[ 411 Pa. Page 252]


The instant controversy between Jane C. Clark, appellant, and her husband, J. Leonard Clark, appellee, comes to us out of a tangle of eight separate actions instituted by appellant,*fn1 arising from the same factual setting, and from which a single appeal was taken.*fn2

The parties were married on May 10, 1945, and are the parents of one daughter, born on July 1, 1948. Prior to their marriage, the husband's father, David L. Clark, died (February 3, 1939) leaving a will dated September 9, 1937, which created a spendthrift trust for the benefit of his children. The presently material portions of the will provide: "TWELFTH: All the rest, residue and remainder of my estate, ... I give, devise and bequeath ... in trust ... to pay ... the net income received therefrom" (to named children, including appellee).

"As each of my said children attains the age of fifty (50) years, the trust as to his or her proportionate

[ 411 Pa. Page 253]

    share of the principal shall terminate and the trustees shall assign, transfer and set over unto said child, his or her proportionate share of said principal."

"THIRTEENTH: Neither the principal nor the income bequeathed under this Will shall be assigned or anticipated by the beneficiaries named therein, nor shall the same be subject to attachment or execution in the hands of the Executors or Trustee."

In February of 1956, the Clarks separated and have been living apart since that time. On April 30, 1957, they entered into a separation agreement, by the terms of which the husband (then age 46) agreed to pay his wife $600 per month for her support and that of their daughter. Such payments, however, were reduced to $400 per month until August 1, 1961, and he agreed to make a lump payment of $10,000 on that date. He undertook also, prior to his reaching age 50, "to establish and create a Trust for the benefit of his wife and/or their daughter Linda Jane Clark" either in the amount of $90,000 or "30% of the amount to which the husband may be entitled from the trust in his said father's estate, less $10,000.00," whichever should be greater. He further agreed "to effect the payment into such [proposed] Trust, from the amount to which he will be entitled from the principal of the Trust being administered by" the fiduciaries, "in the estate of" his deceased father.*fn3 The agreement authorized the confession

[ 411 Pa. Page 254]

    of judgment against the husband upon his default.

On September 13, 1957, the husband entered into an agreement with a bank, creating the trust for his wife and daughter, as outlined in the separation agreement of April 30, 1957. (However, by letter of November 5, 1959, to his corporate trustee, he revoked this trust arrangement.) The husband continued to pay his wife $400 per month until April of 1959, but not thereafter. On October 1, 1959, the wife instituted an equity proceeding against her husband for the support of herself and daughter, and for the enforcement of the agreement of April 30, 1957. By adjudication filed March 30, 1960, the chancellor awarded the wife $450 per month*fn4 plus $2,700 in arrearages, but held that the agreement was an invalid attempt to assign an interest in the spendthrift trust which could not be enforced. No appeal was taken from that adjudication, and it is not before us for review.

Some of the existing actions were instituted by the wife on March 30, 1961, and on April 3, 1961 - the day

[ 411 Pa. Page 255]

    the husband attained age 50 - she filed duplicates of the earlier suits in assumpsit and in equity.*fn5

The pivotal question presented is whether the husband's distributive share of principal in the spendthrift trust, while in the hands of the trustees after he attained 50, is subject to attachment for the satisfaction of claims which the wife asserts under the agreement of April 30, 1957. The determination of this issue is governed by the intention of David L. Clark as expressed in his will creating the trust for his children. This Court, in Sproul-Bolton v. Sproul-Bolton, 383 Pa. 85, 93, 117 A.2d 688, 692 (1955), stated: "... [Ordinarily] the principal of a trust fund, the right and title to which has vested in the beneficiary and which has become payable to him, is subject to attachment by his creditors, and ... it is only when the donor or testator who created the trust has by clear language expressed the intention that the immunity from attachment or alienation is to continue until actual payment of the principal to the beneficiary that such protection in transit will be accorded legal support."

No principle in the law of wills and trusts is more firmly and clearly established than that the intention of the testator or settlor must prevail. Walton Estate, 409 Pa. 225, 186 A.2d 32 (1962). Equally fundamental is the legal precept that the owner of property "... may do as he pleases with it provided the disposition be not to unlawful purposes, and what he may do himself he may do by agent while living, or by executor after death." Dulles's Estate, 218 Pa. 162, 163, 67

[ 411 Pa. Page 256]

Atl. 49 (1907); accord, Borsch Estate, 362 Pa. 581, 67 A.2d 119 (1949).

In ascertaining the intention of the testator or settlor, it has been frequently said that no will has a brother, twin brother, or double. See, e.g., Jones Estate, 410 Pa. 380, 190 A.2d 120 (1963). "Each will is its own best interpreter, and a construction of one is no certain guide to the meaning of another: ..." Williamson's Estate, 302 Pa. 462, 466, 153 Atl. 765, 766 (1931). Equally appropriate is the Court's observation in Nicholson Estate, 355 Pa. 426, 430, 50 A.2d 283, 284 (1947), that "every will, in a sense, is unique. Precedents are of little value."

Examination of the trust provisions, in the light of the foregoing guides, clearly discloses an unqualified direction that no part of the trust, principal or income, "shall be assigned or anticipated by the beneficiaries." Testator used plain and emphatic language in precisely expressing his firm intention that no portion of his gift shall be assigned or anticipated. His desire and purpose, as his words reveal, was to foreclose and make entirely impossible, by any device, the assignment or anticipation of either principal or income. Under the specific terms of the trust, its creator made it manifestly clear that his beneficiaries had no right or authority to make any binding commitment of either principal or income during the life of the trust. It is difficult to conceive how he could have been more articulate in stating his intention.

Having thus firmly provided that his children could not reach the trust assets by assignment or anticipation, he further implemented that restriction with the explicit direction that his gift shall not be "subject to attachment or execution in the hands" of his fiduciaries. No claim, therefore, could validly be asserted against the trust property - by attachment or execution - while

[ 411 Pa. Page 257]

    in the custody and control of his trustees.*fn6 As the owner of the property, he was privileged to exercise the right to protect his gift from assignment and anticipation (by his beneficiaries) and from attachment and execution while in the hands of his trustees. This David L. Clark did with clarity and definiteness. The legal protection he thus accorded the property of the trust may not be impaired nor its effectiveness diminished.

It follows, therefore, that all of the instant proceedings seeking to reach directly or indirectly any portion of the corpus of the spendthrift trust must fail. The testator designed and fashioned his trust to achieve this legal result. In complete harmony with the purpose of the trust (as directed by the testator himself), the court below correctly dissolved the attachments filed against the trustees and properly disposed of the remaining actions.


Orders affirmed. Costs upon appellants.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Official citation and/or docket number and footnotes (if any) for this case available with purchase.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.