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Connecticut Bank and Trust Co. v. Coffin

Supreme Court of Connecticut

January 30, 1990

CONNECTICUT BANK AND TRUST COMPANY,
v.
Dexter D. COFFIN, Jr., et al. CONNECTICUT BANK AND TRUST COMPANY
v.
Dexter D. COFFIN, IV et al.

Argued Dec. 12, 1989.

Bruce G. MacDermid, with whom, on the brief, were Richard R. Steinmetz, Hartford, Robert A. Horowitz and Mark Gregory, Stamford, Austin J. McGuigan, Hartford, and Joseph B. Burns, for appellants (defendant Sean Van Schoonmaker Coffin and defendants Neil Elliott, et al.).

Elga R. Wasserman, New Haven, with whom, on the brief, were Jacob D. Zeldes, Fairfield, Frank J. Silvestri, Jr., and David P. Atkins, Bridgeport, for appellees (defendants Martha E. Coffin, et al.).

John L. Bonee, III, Hartford, for appellee (defendant Kathryn Blaire Greenhalgh).

Timothy S. Fisher, with whom was Christopher J. Hug and, on the brief, George C. Hastings and Linda M. Hamel, Hartford, for appellee (plaintiff in each case).

Stephen B. Goddard, Hartford, filed a brief for the appellee (defendant Lance Justin Coffin).

Before PETERS, C.J., and ARTHUR H. HEALEY, SHEA, CALLAHAN and GLASS, JJ.

[213 Conn. 574] PER CURIAM.

Both of these appeals arise from a declaratory judgment action brought by the plaintiff bank as a trustee to determine which of the defendants are the "issue" of Dexter D. Coffin, Jr., and thus beneficiaries of an inter vivos trust created by his father, Dexter D. Coffin, and of testamentary trusts created by both his parents.

In Connecticut Bank & Trust Co. v. Coffin, 212 Conn. 678, 563 A.2d 1323 (1989), (Coffin I ), this court found no error

Page 532

in the trial court's construction of the trust indenture executed by Dexter D. Coffin on April 30, 1957, to exclude as beneficiaries of the trust any children who had been adopted by his son, Dexter D. Coffin, Jr., and his grandson, Dexter D. Coffin III, but to include Kathryn Blaire Greenhalgh, the settlor's great-granddaughter, who had been adopted out of the Coffin family after dissolution of her mother's marriage to Dexter D. Coffin III. The present appeals concern, not the 1957 trust, but the wills of Dexter D. Coffin [213 Conn. 575] and his wife, Elizabeth Dorr Coffin, dated October 2, 1964, and July 31, 1963, respectively, which were admitted to probate following their deaths. [1] Each of the wills created a trust for the benefit of Dexter D. Coffin, Jr., his wife, Joyce C. Coffin, and the "issue" of Dexter D. Coffin, Jr., and also contained a paragraph declaring that the term "issue" was not intended to include adopted persons and their issue. A similar paragraph is contained in the 1957 trust instrument that we construed in Coffin I.

The trial court decided to give the word "issue" as used in the testamentary trusts the same meaning it had attributed to that word in the 1957 trust, thereby excluding as beneficiaries the children adopted by Dexter D. Coffin, Jr., [2] and Dexter D. Coffin III, [3] but including Kathryn Blaire Greenhalgh. The children adopted into the Coffin family by Dexter D. Coffin, Jr., and Dexter D. Coffin III have appealed from that judgment. They raise claims concerning the construction of the testamentary trusts that are similar to those we considered in Coffin I but found unpersuasive. In addition, however, they rely upon the enactment in 1959 of the predecessor to General Statutes § 45-64a(4), which reversed the common law presumption that adopted children are not included in the term "issue," but [213 Conn. 576] restricted the scope of the statute to "any will or trust instrument executed after October 1, 1959," thus precluding its application to the 1957 trust indenture. Public Acts 1959, No. 106. [4] We find our decision in Coffin I to be largely dispositive of the claims relating to the construction of the language of the testamentary trusts. We also conclude that the enactment of the statutory provision

Page 533

including adopted children in the term "issue" does not require that we impute a different intention to the testators in using that word than the intention indicated by its use in the 1957 trust instrument. Accordingly, we find no error in the judgment.

The wills of both Dexter D. Coffin and his wife contained a provision declaring that the word "issue" should not include "adopted persons" and specifically [213 Conn. 577] excluding Robert L. Olmstead, their grandson, who had been adopted out of the Coffin family after the divorce of his parents, Dexter D. Coffin, Jr., and Betsy Bisell Coffin, and her remarriage to Theodore Olmstead. [5] Although there are some variations in phraseology, there is no significant difference in this provision as contained in each will from the corresponding provision of the inter vivos trust [6] that we construed in Coffin I to exclude children adopted into the Coffin family as beneficiaries of the trust. The parties do not claim otherwise. In Coffin I, however, we did rely upon the common law presumption that the word "issue" connotes a lineal relationship by blood; Schapira v. Connecticut Bank & Trust Co., 204 Conn. 450, 455, 528 A.2d 367 (1987); which has been reversed by the 1959 enactment. This statutory provision, declaring that " 'issue' ... when used in any will or trust instrument executed after October 1, 1959, shall, unless the document clearly indicates a contrary intention, include legally adopted persons," would require a different result than that reached in Coffin I, unless the wills plainly disclose a "contrary intention."

[213 Conn. 578] The declaration in the wills that the term "issue" was not intended to include "adopted persons," however, "clearly indicates a contrary intention" to that otherwise required by the statute to be ascribed to the use of that term. It is plain that the testators intended to exclude "adopted persons" as beneficiaries of the trusts, although, as we observed in Coffin I, supra, 212 Conn. at 693, 563 A.2d 1323, that exclusion "is ambiguous in that it conceivably may refer to those adopted into the Coffin family, to those adopted out of the family, or to both." We also noted that "[t]he purpose of the exclusion would, of course, be wholly defeated if the phrase were construed to apply to neither of these classes of adopted persons, because it would then be of no effect." Id. We concluded in Coffin I that the reference to "adopted persons" pertained only to those who had been adopted into the Coffin family, except for Robert L. Olmstead, who had been adopted out of the Coffin family but had been excluded as a beneficiary by name. Accordingly, relying upon the trial court's finding that the settlor had never intended to "cut off" his blood descendants, other than Olmstead, we held that Kathryn Blaire Greenhalgh, by blood a great-granddaughter of the settlor who had been adopted out of his family, was entitled to share with other "issue" of the settlor as a beneficiary.

We have concluded that the 1959 enactment does not control the construction of the term "issue" in the testamentary trusts because of the clearly expressed intention of the testators to exclude "adopted persons" as beneficiaries. In Coffin I we

Page 534

resolved the ambiguity inherent in the term "adopted persons" by affirming the trial court's finding, based upon the testimony presented, that Dexter D. Coffin, as settlor of the 1957 trust, intended to refer only to persons adopted into the Coffin family and not to blood descendants who might be adopted out of the family, except for the specific[213 Conn. 579] exclusion of Olmstead. At the time the inter vivos trust was executed, April 30, 1957, both Dexter Coffin and his wife also executed wills that contained clauses excluding "adopted persons" as "issue" in language substantially similar to the corresponding provision of the trust. The same clauses, with insignificant deviations in phraseology, were included in several wills that each testator executed after that date. There is no reason to suppose that Dexter D. Coffin and his wife had any different intention, at the time they executed their last wills, from that entertained when the trust containing the same exclusion of "adopted persons" was executed. We agree with the trial court that the scope of that exclusion in the testamentary trusts is the same as in the 1957 inter vivos trust.

There is no error.


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