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Estate of Evans

Supreme Court of Wisconsin
Jun 25, 1965
135 N.W.2d 832 (Wis. 1965)


stating that we are not to construe a statute so as to produce absurd results

Summary of this case from Linville v. City of Janesville


June 3, 1965 —

June 25, 1965.

APPEAL from an order of the county court of Monroe county: LEO P. LOWNIK, SR., County Judge of Richland county, Presiding. Reversed.

For the appellants there was a brief by Krembs Ambelang of Sparta, and oral argument by Charles D. Ambelang.

For the respondents there was a brief by Steele, Smyth, Klos Flynn, and oral argument by Frederick Schneider, all of La Crosse.

On March 19, 1962, the Monroe county court (by Judge LAMBERT A. HANSEN) appointed the Farmers National Bank of Sparta as conservator of Evan S. Evans, age eighty-seven, upon his own petition because "of his age, his inability to do the things necessary for his own welfare and high blood pressure." By order of March 26th the court directed the conservator, pursuant to another petition of Evans (dated March 23d), to place certain treasury notes, which belonged to him, in joint tenancy with appellants Beatrice Evans West, a niece, and Fred M. Evans, a nephew. Evan Evans died on June 29th and the inventory of the estate filed by the administrator listed the treasury notes as assets belonging solely to him. The niece and nephew applied to strike these notes, among other items, from the inventory and after a hearing on this application, the court (by Judge LEO P. LOWNIK), denied the application and, among other things, ordered the notes included as the sole property of Evans. Appeal is taken from this portion of the order.

One question is presented on this appeal. It is whether the trial court erred in authorizing the conservator to place the treasury notes owned by Evans in joint tenancy with others. This is purely a question of law.

In essence, the answer to this question turns on whether the law governing guardianships also controls conservatorships. In effect, the trial court ruled that it does, at least insofar as the authority of a conservator to create a joint tenancy in certain assets of the conservatee is concerned.

In 1955 the legislature adopted the concept of "conservatorship" providing for the appointment of a conservator on the voluntary application to the county court of "[a]ny adult resident who believes that he is unable properly to manage his property or income . . . ." Once appointed, a conservator has "all the powers and duties of a guardian of the estate of an incompetent person."

Ch. 416, Laws of 1955.

Sec. 319.31 (1), Stats.

Sec. 319.31 (3), Stats.

Sec. 319.19, Stats., which lists the powers and duties of a guardian, contains no express provision which permits a guardian to make a gift, either outright or in joint tenancy, on behalf of the ward as was done in the present case. The primary function of the guardian is to preserve the ward's estate and assets are to be expended or disposed of only to meet the fundamental needs of the ward or his dependents. In at least two Wisconsin cases this court has ruled that a guardian, with county court approval, could liquidate assets of a ward that were already in joint tenancy provided the ward's needs required it and the guardian was acting in the best interests of the ward. Therefore, the trial court was correct in concluding that a guardian, even with court approval, could not create a joint tenancy in certain assets of the ward when such transfer was not for the care, maintenance, or education of the ward.

Boehmer v. Boehmer (1953), 264 Wis. 15, 58 N.W.2d 411; Will of Barnes (1958), 4 Wis.2d 22, 89 N.W.2d 807.

It does not follow, however, that the action taken here by the conservator (with court approval) in creating a joint tenancy in certain government bonds of the conservatee was a nullity. The basic purpose of the conservatorship statute was "to eliminate the stigma of incompetency for persons who are forgetful because of age, and yet afford them the protection of the court if they desired it." The conservatee is not adjudged incompetent; indeed, in the instant case there was no assertion that Evan Evans was incompetent as part of the proceeding for establishing his conservatorship, and no record was made on his competency. The statute states, "Appointment of a conservator shall not be evidence of the competency or incompetency of the person whose estate is being administered."

Kroncke, A Decade of Probate Law, 1961 Wisconsin Law Review, 82, 118.

Sec. 319.31 (6), Stats.

Thus, a conservatee is not considered completely incapable of looking after his own property. A ward under guardianship is either a minor, incompetent, or a spendthrift. He is incapable of looking after his own property and it fits the statutory scheme for control of guardianships that the ward should not be able to control what should be done with his property. But in a conservatorship, where there is no adjudication that the applicant is incompetent, it makes sense to allow the conservatee the freedom to direct a gift of his property where both the conservator and the court, as here, entered no objection.

Sec. 319.01, Stats.

Respondents contend that Evans could have accomplished the transfer of property by terminating the conservatorship, then making the transfer, and finally re-establishing the conservatorship. This certainly would be a lot of extra work and waste motion to achieve basically what Evans desired here. Respondents also contend that if Evans did not want to end the conservatorship he could have executed a will leaving the notes outright to his niece and nephew. But if Evans was not incompetent, it would not be reasonable to prevent him from making the transfer inter vivos, not testamentary.

See secs. 319.31 (4) and (5), Stats.

Estate of Zink (1962), 15 Wis.2d 527, 113 N.W.2d 420.

It is our conclusion that sec. 319.31 (3), Stats., does not prevent the conservator with its and the court's approval from making a transfer such as the creation of the joint tenancies sought by the conservatee, Evans, in the instant case. The restricted construction of sec. 319.31 (3) proposed by the respondents and adopted by the trial court would defy the very purpose of the conservatorship statute. A statute should not be construed so as to work absurd or unreasonable results. By the Court. — Order reversed, and cause remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

Isaksen v. Chesapeake Instrument Corp. (1963), 19 Wis.2d 282, 120 N.W.2d 151; Worachek v. Stephenson Town School Dist. (1955), 270 Wis. 116, 70 N.W.2d 657.

BEILFUSS, J., took no part.

Summaries of

Estate of Evans

Supreme Court of Wisconsin
Jun 25, 1965
135 N.W.2d 832 (Wis. 1965)

stating that we are not to construe a statute so as to produce absurd results

Summary of this case from Linville v. City of Janesville
Case details for

Estate of Evans

Case Details

Full title:ESTATE OF EVANS: EVANS (FRED M.) and another, Appellants, v. EVANS…

Court:Supreme Court of Wisconsin

Date published: Jun 25, 1965


135 N.W.2d 832 (Wis. 1965)
135 N.W.2d 832

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