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the decedent, whether it be of record or not, unless, within one year from his qualification or before such payment or distribution, he shall have had notice of such debt or demand."
By section 2708, it is provided, that “When a report of the accounts of any personal representative and of the debts and demands against his decedent's estate shall have been filed in the office of a court, whether under this chapter or in a suit in chancery, the said court, after one year from the qualification of such personal representative, may, on the motion of a legatee or distributee of his decedent, make an order for the creditors of such decedent to show cause on some day to be named in the order against the payment and delivery of the estate of the decedent to his legatees or distributees; a copy of which order shall be published once a week for four successive weeks in one or more newspapers, as the court may direct. On or after the day named in the order of the court in term or the judge in vacation may order the payment and delivery to the legatees or distributees of the whole or a part of the money and other estate not before distributed, with or without a refunding bond, as it may prescribe; but every legatee or distributee to whom any such payment or delivery is made, and his representatives, may, in a suit brought against him within five years afterwards, be adjudged to refund a due proportion of any debts or demands appearing against the decedent, and the costs attending their recovery.”
And by section 2710 the county court, for good cause shown, is required to have removed to the circuit court having jurisdiction over such county any report made to the county court under this chapter.
We have quoted these sections very extensively in order that it may appear how minute, how careful and how sufficient is the provision made by our statute law for the settlement of the accounts of fiduciaries. It is full, ample and complete; it guards and protects every interest as amply as could be done by a formal suit in chancery. By the death of the decedent the probate court acquires jurisdiction; it appoints the administrator and commits the estate to his control; and at every step of his administration the law provides proper machinery by which the fiduciary can be compelled to collect and distribute the funds committed to his care, and to settle his accounts showing the manner in which his trust had been executed.
If the administrator in this case, instead of proceeding in strict obedience to the provisions of chapter 121 of the Code, had instituted a suit in chancery for direction as to his conduct in the administration of this estate in what respect would the proceeding have differed from that which has been pursued? There is not a suggestion or a hint that he had any knowledge, or that anyone else within the jurisdiction of the court had any knowledge, of the existence of those now claiming to be co-distributees of Edwin J. Carter. They and their fore-bears had cut themselves loose from Loudoun county more than half a century before; they had left not a trace behind them; and in utter ignorance of their existence a court of competent jurisdiction, having control over the administrator whom it had appointed and over the estate which it had committed to his care, solemnly adjudicated, after a strict compliance with the provisions of the law, that E. J. Carter was the sole distributee of Travers H. Carter, deceased, and ordered the funds in the hands of the administrator to be paid to him without a refunding bond.
If these were creditors making the attack, we think it is scarcely denied that the administrator would be saved harmless by the statute, for by section 2707 it is expressly provided, that “a personal representative shall not, on account of what is so paid or distributed, be personally liable for any debt or demand against the decedent, whether it be of record or not, unless, within one year from his qualification or before such payment or distribution, he shall have had notice of such debt or demand.” While there is no such precise language of exoneration with respect to distributees, the legal effect of a compliance with the requirements of chapter 121 is, to give protection as amply against the claims of a distributee as though the statute had so declared in express terms.
In other words, it is because the statute has given to all concerned an opportunity to present their claims and demands and to have them litigated before a competent tribunal that exemption from liability attaches in favor of those who have pursued the terms of the statute. It is what has been done, or what might have been done, under the statute by those diligent in the assertion of their rights which affords protection to those who have acted in obedience to the mandate of the law.
In Woerner on Am. Law of Administration (2nd ed.), sec. 505, it is said: "Final settlements of the administration, when made by the executor or administrator in pursuance of statutory requirement, after legal notice to all parties interested in the estate, are conclusive as to all matters therein directly adjudicated. This is declared by statute in a number of States; for instance, in California, Indiana, Nevada, New Jersy, New York, Ohio and Rhode Island. But aside from statutory enactment, the current of authorities so holding is almost unbroken; it seems supererogatory to refer to them specially. Where the notice has been given as required by the statute, the judgment will be conclusive, although rendered in the absence of all parties but the administrator; and where the statute directs notice by publication, actual or personal notice is not required.”
It is said, however, that this is a court of limited jurisdiction, and that we may concede; but the only difference between a court of limited and one of general jurisdiction is, that with respect to the latter there is a presumption in favor of the jurisdiction, while with respect to courts of limited jurisdiction the presumption is against that jurisdiction.
Mr. Justice Strong, in Miller's Ex'or v. United States, 11 Wall., 268, speaking of this subject, says: "It is insisted that the district court did not find that the stocks belonged t, a person engaged in the rebellion, or who had given aid or comfort thereto, which it is said are made necessary findings by the 7th section of the Act, before a decrce of condemnation can be entered. This is not an objection to the jurisdiction of the court; we have already shown that that was complete. It is an objection to the regularity of proceeding, and it assumes that the record must show affirmatively there was no irregularity. It presumes, therefore, against the record. The general rule, however, is, that in courts of record all things are presumed to have been rightly done. In courts of limited jurisdiction, indeed, there is a presumption against jurisdiction, but when that appears they are entitled to the presumptions in favor of their action as other courts are. Thc district and circuit courts are of limited jurisdiction, but they are not inferior courts, and they are, therefore, entitled to the same presumptions in their favor. Those presumptions are, that the court, having jurisdiction, and having entered a judgment, did everything that was necessary to warrant its entry of the indement. Undoubtedly the contrary may be shown in a court of error, but the burden of showing it is upon him who
alleges error. The legal intendment is against him. This doctrine is abundantly sustained by the authorities."
In Erwin v. Lowry, 7 How., 181, the court said: “Wherever a judgment is given by a court having jurisdiction of the parties and of the subject-matter, the exercise of jurisdiction warrants the presumption in favor of a purchaser; that the facts, which were necessary to confer jurisdiction, were found.” See also Houard v. Landsberg's Committee, 108 Va.,
decided at this term.
After the full citation which we have given from the statute law on the subject, we do not think there can be any question as to the jurisdiction of the county court in this case, for as has been well said, “The power to hear and determine a cause is jurisdiction;" and, as we have seen, the jurisdiction being established all the presumptions are in favor of the rightful exercise of that jurisdiction.
It may be well to give in full, before closing this opinion the orders of the county court of Loudoun county, which are as follows:
“At a county court held for Loudoun county, March 13th, 1894.
"It appearing to the court that Commissioner W. N. Wise's report of the accounts of W. S. Summers, D. S., for H. H. Russell, sheriff of Loudoun county and as such administrator of Travers H. Carter, deceased, and of the debts and demands against said estate, have been filed in the office of this court under chap. 121, Code of Virginia, and that more than one year has elapsed since the qualification of said administrator, on the motion of Edwin J. Carter, sole distributee of said estate, it is ordered that the creditors of said decedent do appear before this court on the first day of its May term, 1894, and show cause, if any they can, against the payment and delivery of the estate of said Travers H. Carter to his said dis. tributee, Ed. J. Carter, without a refunding bond.
“A copy of this order shall be published once a week for four successive weeks in a newspaper published in Loudoun county, Va., and posted at the front door of the courthouse on the first day of two successive terms of this court.”
“At a county court held for Loudoun county, May 14th, 1894, in the matter of the estate account of Travers II. Carter, deceased.
"It appearing that the order of the court made upon the motion of Ed. J. Carter, sole distributee of said estate, for the creditors of said decedent to show cause, if any they can, why the estate in the hands of his administrator should not be paid and delivered to the said distributee, has been duly published in the “Washingtonian” and posted at the front door of the courthouse as prescribed by section 2708 of the Code of Va., 1887, and no creditors of said decedent having shown cause against such payment and delivery. It is ordered that the said estate of said decedent, which has or may come into the hands of his personal representative, shall be paid and delivered to the said Edwin J. Carter, or Jno. H. Alexander, his attorney, according to law without a refunding bond, and the account of said decedent's administrator having been returned to the office of this court for more than thirty days, the same is approved and confirmed, and it is ordered to be recorded, and in accordance therewith said W. S. Summers, D. S., for H. H. Russell, administrator of T. H. Carter, is ordered to pay to said Ed. J. Carter or J. H. Alexander, his attorney, the sum of $2,197.14.”
From these orders it appears that everything was done regularly and in order, as prescribed by the statute law of this State. The administrator had fully settled his accounts; there was no creditor whose demand had not been satisfied; there was no suggestion of the existence of any other distributee than E. J. Carter; and the court, having jurisdiction of the whole subject, found as a fact that he was sole distributee, and directed the administrator to pay the money over to him, which was done. More than a year had elapsed since the qualification of the administrator; he was, therefore, compellable to make distribution of the estate under our statute law.
“The payment in distribution is, however,” says Croswell, on Executors and Administrators, sec. 524, "dependent largely on the condition of the estate as shown in the administrator's accounts; for as was said previously in regard to payment of legacies, if his accounts show that all the debts are paid and nothing remains to be done but to distribute, the court may order the administrator to distribute, either wholly or partially, and will not allow him to retain the estate in his hands. The decree of distribution, when it is made by the court, settles the duty of the administrator to pay over the estate forthwith, if so ordered, and also protects him in making such a payment. In some States, the administrator may, before paying a distribu