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In Re Estate of Taggart

NOVEMBER 14, 1973.


APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Jackson County; the Hon. EVERETT PROSSER, Judge, presiding.


This action was commenced by the Executor of the Last Will and Testament of Rev. Joseph J. Taggart, Deceased, to construe a legacy to the decedent's niece, Helen Taggart Pellegrini. The Circuit Court of Jackson County entered its order finding Mrs. Pellegrini to be entitled only to the funds on deposit in a certain joint account, plus interest, at the time of the decedent's death. (The decedent shall hereinafter be called Father Taggart.) From the order of the trial court this appeal has been taken by Mrs. Pellegrini.

The clause in question and to be construed is the Fifth Clause of Father Taggart's Last Will and Testament, which reads:

"FIFTH: I give and bequeath to my niece, Helen Pellegrini, all my interest in the joint bank accounts which I have with my niece in The City National Bank of Murphysboro, Illinois."

The Will was executed on June 15, 1964. Father Taggart died on December 3, 1968.

The account in the City National Bank of Murphysboro, hereinafter referred to as the "Bank", was opened in 1953. The decedent and Mrs. Pellegrini, the respondent, had signed a signature card stating that the account was in joint tenancy with right of survivorship.

The Bank's records show that there was only one "joint tenancy" account with an original deposit of $3307.18, and that numerous deposits were made into the account by Father Taggart from the date of its opening until the date of Father Taggart's death. There were but two withdrawals made during the same period. The first withdrawal was made on July 21, 1965, in the amount of $754.55. The second withdrawal was made on September 29, 1967, and was in the amount of $25,000. With the proceeds of the second withdrawal, Father Taggart purchased a time certificate of deposit in his name alone. It is this withdrawal and time certificate of deposit which are the cause of the present dispute.

At the date of Father Taggart's death, he owned six of the Bank's certificates of deposits with an aggregate amount in excess of $97,000; his total estate was in excess of $337,000.

On the date of the execution of his will, there was a balance of approximately $7600 in the joint account at the Bank. On the date of his death, there was a balance of $13,026.21 in the joint account. Between the two aforesaid dates, the account grew to an amount of $28,907.18, immediately prior to the $25,000 withdrawal and was then built up to the level that it attained on the date of his death.

There is no contention made that the respondent placed any funds into the account nor that she withdrew funds from the account.

At a hearing on the Executor's petition to construe the clause, the Executor and Mrs. Pellegrini testified. The Executor, Mr. Carl McCord, was President of the Bank and was the individual who effected the withdrawal of the $25,000 from the account and used the funds to purchase the time certificate at Father Taggart's direction. Mr. McCord testified that he had known Father Taggart for about 35 years. Then concerning the circumstances surrounding the withdrawal of the funds, he testified that he had been directed by Father Taggart to withdraw the funds and purchase the time certificate so that the funds could earn more interest. At the time of the withdrawal, Father Taggart was residing in the Regina Cleri Home in St. Louis and Mr. McCord had visited him there. Mr. McCord further testified that Father Taggart made no mention of putting the funds into a time certificate jointly with Mrs. Pellegrini, but instructed Mr. McCord to put the time certificate "in his name alone like the rest of them." Mr. McCord also testified that Father Taggart did not sign a withdrawal slip but that the time certificate was endorsed by Father Taggart when the certificate was subsequently renewed.

Mrs. Pellegrini testified that she had been raised by Father Taggart from age four until she entered nurses training at age 17 or 18. Father Taggart then lived with Mrs. Pellegrini at her home in Tulsa, Oklahoma for a period of about nine months during the years 1965-1966 and then returned on visits twice after leaving the Pellegrini's home to live in the Regina Cleri in St. Louis. She further testified that she was vaguely aware of the existence of the joint account but she couldn't readily recall signing the signature card and that she never made any deposits or withdrawals to or from the account.

At the conclusion of the hearing the court allowed counsel to file a "memorandum of authority and argument", response and reply thereto.

The court after considering the evidence and the supporting briefs, responses and reply entered its decree, holding that the respondent was entitled to the proceeds of the joint account and that respondent had no interest in the $25,000 which was used to purchase ...

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