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Harvard, MIT, MFA May Lose Millions Bequeathed in 1890s

November 16, 1985

BOSTON (AP) _ A complicated case of old Yankee wealth that has occupied squadrons of lawyers and three of the state’s most renowned institutions for decades appears to be drawing to a close in Massachusetts’ highest court.

The multimillion-dollar estate of Marian Hovey, who died childless in 1898, is about to be distributed after a legal contest between her family and three charities named in her will - the Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Museum of Fine Arts.

Under a recent ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Court, none of the estate will go to the universities or the museum.

Instead, it appears that Miss Hovey’s entire remaining estate, described as worth more than $2.5 million, will go to a woman identified in probate records as Martha Isabel Seaver, now in her early 40s, the step-daughter of Miss Hovey’s grandnephew, Cabot Jackson Morse Jr.

Miss Seaver’s whereabouts could not immediately be determined.

″His adopted daughter gets the loot,″ said Augustus P. Loring, a Boston trustee for Miss Hovey’s original estate who said he ″inherited″ the case from his father. However, she may not have been formally adopted.

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled in a divided Nov. 7 decision that the money should stay in the family and denied any share to the institutions, which have until Monday to file a petition for rehearing.

The case began when Miss Hovey, a long-time resident of Gloucester, died at age 62 in 1898. Two years earlier she had made out a will directing that her estate be left in trust for her brother Henry and her sister Fanny, who married John Torrey Morse II and had two sons.

If the nephews, Fanny’s sons, failed to appoint beneficiaries, Miss Hovey declared, the whole of the trust fund was to be paid over in equal shares to MIT, the MFA and the Harvard Medical School, unless the medical school ″shall not then admit women to instruction on an equal footing with men.″ The school did not accept women in 1898, but does now.

According to court records, Henry Hovey died in 1900, a childless bachelor. Fanny’s son John also died childless, in 1928.

Fanny’s second son, Cabot Jackson Morse, had one child, Cabot J. Morse Jr.

But when Cabot Sr. died in 1946, he left his son ″the sum of one dollar, as he is otherwise amply provided for.″ The rest of Cabot Sr.’s share of the Hovey estate went to his wife Anna, who died in 1983.

In the meantime, Cabot Jr. drowned in Lake Winnipesaukee in 1948, near his home in Alton Bay, N.H., the victim of an apparent boating accident.

The files of The Boston Evening Globe note that his body was found one day after he lost a suit in Massachusetts Supreme Court in which he sought a share of his father’s estate.

A will left by the younger Cabot Morse named Miss Seaver, then five years old, who was the daughter of his wife Olive by a previous marriage, according to lawyers familiar with the case. The couple had no children of their own.

The current phase of the case opened with the 1983 death of Anna Morse, Cabot Jr.’s mother, which prompted the trustees of the Hovey fortune to ask the high court for guidance on how to distribute it.

In a majority opinion written by Justice Herbert Wilkins, the court ruled against Harvard, MIT and the MFA on the grounds that the court had disposed of their claim in a 1951 case dealing with the estate of Cabot J. Morse Sr., who had named his wife as his heir.

The five majority justices said they were reluctant to overturn that decision because it might invite a flood of other reviews.

Finally, the court interpreted Miss Hovey’s original will to mean she intended to ″keep the assets within the family,″ so the trust was awarded to the estate of Cabot Morse Jr., whose heir was Miss Seaver.

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