ESTATE LITIGATION – DUPLICATE OF DECEDENT’S WILL ADMITTED TO PROBATE

Orphans’ court properly allowed decedent’s sister to present a duplicate of decedent’s will for probate because the orphans’ court correctly recognized that the burden of proof was on the sister to overcome the presumption of destruction of the will and properly found that sister presented clear and satisfactory evidence to defeat the presumption.

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Decedent contacted an attorney to prepare a new will. He said he wished to change his existing will and signed he new will prepared to his directions naming his sister as the executrix and intentionally omitting his adult daughters from the will. Decedent took the original of the will and the attorney kept a duplicate that had also been executed by decedent. When decedent died two years later, sister sought to admit a signed duplicate of the will to probate because the original was not found among decedent’s possessions. The orphans’ court concluded that the duplicate will was properly admitted to probate. Decedent’s daughters appealed.

Daughter’s argued that the orphans’ court failed to hold decedent’s sister to the correct legal standard in rebutting the presumption that decedent destroyed and revoked his will prior to death. They conceded that decedent properly executed the original will and that appeared on the copy presented for probate but argued that sister did not show that when decedent died, the will remained undestroyed or revoked. The court found that the orphans’ court properly considered the decedent’s statement to the attorney that he was not including his daughters in his will because he had well taken care of them during his lifetime. Additionally, the orphans’ court’s noting that the only person who testified about the possibility that decedent wanted to change his testamentary plans was one of his daughters was proper consideration of all the evidence. The facts before the orphans’ court showed that decedent told attorney that he believed he had adequately provided for his daughters during his lifetime, that decedent transferred properties to one daughter before executing the will, that decedent never contacted other attorney recommended by daughter and there was no other testimony that decedent contacted any other attorney to prepare a new will. Based on that evidence, the orphans’ court properly inferred that decedent’s testamentary plan was finalized with the will and transfer of property to daughter, that he was not dissatisfied with the will and that the will was overlooked by family members when the decedent’s house was cleaned out after his death.

Daughters also unpersuasively argued that the orphans’ court erred in allowing inadmissible hearsay and relying on circumstantial evidence. The statements made by the attorney who prepared the will as to decedent’s statements about his daughters being provided for were admissible as a decedent’s declaration of intent under Rule 803(3).

 

Reference: RE Estate of Maddi, PICS Case No. 17-1282, (Pa. Super. July 25, 2017), Digest of Recent Opinions, Pennsylvania Law Weekly, 40 PLW 798. August 29, 2017

 

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