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Beals v. State Street Bank & Trust Co.

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
326 N.E.2d 896 (1975)


Facts

Arthur Hunnewell died with a will that left the residue of his estate in trust for the benefit of his wife and four daughters. The trust income was paid to his wife during her lifetime and upon her death, the trust was divided into a separate portion for each of his then living daughters. Each daughter received the income from her portion of the trust with the right to “direct and appoint by her last Will and Testament” who would receive the trust principal upon her death. If any of the daughters failed to make an appointment of the trust principal, the will directed distribution of the trust to whoever would take under the laws of intestacy. Per the request of Arthur’s daughter, Isabella H. Dexter, to make a discretionary transfer from the principal held in her portion of the trust to her husband’s account, the trustees (plaintiffs) agreed to transfer the majority of the principal. Isabella later filed with the probate court a partial release of her power of appointment under her father’s will to the extent she could appoint to anyone other than descendants of her father. Isabella died with a will leaving the residue of her estate to the children of her deceased sister, Margaret Blake, without expressly exercising her power of appointment under her father’s will. Her sister, Jane, also survived Isabella, but died soon after, leaving surviving children. The trustees filed a petition for instructions regarding how to distribute the principal of Isabella’s portion of the trust. If Isabella was found to have exercised her power of appointment in her will, Margaret Blake’s children would take all of the trust principal, but if she did not exercise that power, the principal would be divided, pursuant to the default provision, between Margaret and Jane’s children, Isabella’s surviving heirs. Jane’s estate argued that Massachusetts law should apply and that the power is a special power due to Isabella’s partial release, in which case a general residuary clause does not exercise a special power of appointment. Margaret’s children argued that New York law should apply, under which a will that devises the entire estate exercises a special power of appointment, or alternatively, that the will expresses an intention to exercise the power, or, under Massachusetts law, the power is a general power that is exercisable by a residuary clause. The Probate Court reserved judgment and certified the question to the Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts transferred the case up for decision.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Wilkins, J.)

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