Shabbat Parashat Teruma 5774
P'ninat Mishpat: A Guardian’s Actions to Save an Estate and their Ramifications(based around Shut HaRosh 61:1-2)
Question: Reuven died and left orphans and a sizable estate. Enemies from the king’s palace came to seize the estate. Shimon, who had been appointed a legal guardian, made a deal with the oppressors, whereby he would give them a precious jewel they desired, which belonged to the oldest orphan (Levi), and they would leave the rest of the property. In the presence of a relative of Shimon and another witness, Shimon promised the orphan that if he would give the jewel, Shimon would give him 1500 gold coins from what he would save from the estate. After this event, Shimon the guardian died. This story raises a few questions: Should Levi receive 1500 gold coins from the estate, in addition to his regular portion of the inheritance? Can witnesses to the matter be heard while the other orphans are minors? Are Reuven’s creditors who have claims on all of Reuven’s estate considered like litigants who also must be present at testimony on the matter, as according to the account that sacrificing the jewel saved the estate, Levi should be paid before the creditors?
Answer: Had the guardian not died, he would have paid Levi the 1500 gold coins as he promised. However, now that he has died, Levi has to deal with his brothers, and therefore he is unable to have the witnesses testify not in the inheritor’s presence as halachic adults.
Regarding the creditors, the matter depends if the debts are such that warrant payment while the orphans are minors. The main cases in which payment is taken from minors is when there are growing interest payments on the debt or when the debt is to the widow asking for her ketuba, for while payment of a ketuba is delayed, the estate must provide her with support. In that case, witnesses would be heard in front of Levi, the creditors, and the other orphans. If the creditors are of the type that must wait until the orphans grow up, nothing will be done until that point.
[Ed. Note- the next siman seems to be a continuation of the first, but it sounds like Shimon did not die, in contradiction to the above. Perhaps the question was a theoretical one with a couple of permutations. Otherwise, there is something I am not understanding in the order of events.]
Question (continued): Shimon the guardian gave Levi 1500 gold coins, but Levi said that he took them to promote the interests of the family, whereby they can have no complaints about the money received and he is still owed 1500 gold coins for the jewel. Shimon claims that it was given to pay the compensation for the jewel.
Answer (continued): Since the guardian says explicitly that he gave the coins as payment, how can Levi relate it to advances for family expenses. If Levi would have a document saying that he is owed 1500 coins and he received coins without witnesses, he would be believed to say they were given for another purpose since he could have denied receiving the payment. However, in this case, all depends on the word of the guardian, who is more believed than Levi. If Levi thought it was necessary to receive significant funds to promote the interests of the family, he should have approached the guardian with a formal request, and the guardian would have decided whether it was within the interests of the family. Therefore, the promise of 1500 gold coins for the jewel is considered completed.
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