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Law School Case Brief

Olliffe v. Wells - 130 Mass. 221 (1881)


Where a trust not declared in the will is established by a court of chancery against the devisee, it is by reason of the obligation resting upon the conscience of the devisee, and not as a valid testamentary disposition by the deceased. Where the bequest is outright upon its face, the setting up of a trust, while it diminishes the right of the devisee, does not impair any right of the heirs or next of kin, in any aspect of the case; for if the trust were not set up, the whole property would go to the devisee by force of the devise; if the trust set up is a lawful one, it ensures to the benefit of the cestuis que trust; and if the trust set up is unlawful, the heirs or next of kin take by way of resulting trust.


Testatrix Ellen Donovan left a will which contained a clause permitting the executor, the Rev. Eleazer M.P. Wells, to distribute the residue of her estate according to the Wells’ discretion pursuant to the testatrix’s intentions, i.e., for charitable purposes. Plaintiffs, Shearse Olliffe and another, heirs at law and next kin of Ellen Donovan, in their bill in equity against Wells, claimed that they were such parties and sought discovery, an account, an order for payment of the residue to plaintiffs, and a temporary injunction against distributing the residue otherwise.


Could the plaintiffs be deprived of their interest from the testatrix's will?




The Supreme Court of Massachusetts held that the plaintiffs could not have been deprived of their equitable interest that accrued to them directly from the testatrix by any conduct of the devisee executor, nor by the testatrix's intention, unless legally signified in writing. A trust not sufficiently declared on the face of the will could not have been set up by extrinsic evidence to defeat the rights of plaintiffs. A decree for plaintiffs was proper.

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