Darby v. Mayer – Case Brief Summary (U.S. Supreme Court)

Darby v. Mayer - Case Brief Summary (U.S. Supreme Court)

In Darby v. Mayer, 23 U.S. 465, 10 Wheat. 465, 471, 472 (1825) this court recognized that by a probate under that statute the will was conclusively established as to personalty; but decided that the clause of sub-chapter 2, § 4, above quoted, by which "an attested copy, under the seal of office, of any will, testament or codicil, recorded in any office authorized to record the same, shall be admitted as evidence in any court of law or equity," did not make such a copy of the recorded probate of a will evidence of title to real estate; and the reasons of the court were stated by Mr. Justice Johnson as follows:

"It is true that the generality of the terms in the first lines of this clause is such as would, if unrestricted by the context, embrace wills of lands. It is also true that the previous chapter in the same article prescribes the formalities necessary to give validity to devises of real estate; it is further true that the previous sections of the second chapter indicate the means, and impose the duty of delivering up wills of all descriptions to the register of the court of probates, for safekeeping, after the death of the testator, and until they shall be demanded by some person authorized to demand them for the purpose of proving them.

"But it is equally true that the act does not authorize the registering of any will without probate. Nor does it, in any one of its provisions, relate to the probate of any wills, except wills of goods and chattels.

"The clause recited makes evidence of such wills only, as are recorded in the offices of courts authorized to record them. But when the power of taking probate is expressly limited to the probate of wills of goods and chattels, we see not with what propriety the meaning of the clause in question can be extended to wills of any other description. The orphans' court may take probates of wills, though they affect lands, provided they also affect goods and chattels; but the will, nevertheless, is conclusively established only as to the personalty.

"Unless the words be explicit and imperative to the contrary, the construction must necessarily conform to the existing laws of the State on the subject of wills of real estate. And when the power of taking probates is confined to wills of personalty, we think the construction of the clause recited must be limited by the context.

"We are, therefore, of opinion that there was nothing in the law of Maryland which could, under the Constitution, make the document offered to prove this will per se evidence in a land cause."