Articles Posted in Trusts & Estates

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The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's consideration was whether individuals who were not named in an executed testamentary document have standing to bring a legal malpractice action against the testator’s attorney, as purported third-party beneficiaries to the contract for legal services between the testator and his attorney. After review, the Court concluded such individuals do not have standing to sue the testator’s attorney for a breach of contract. The Court therefore reversed the Superior Court and remanded for reinstatement of the trial court’s order granting summary judgment and dismissing the claims. View "Est. of Robert Agnew v. Ross" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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This dispute arose out of an attempt to enter a copy of a lost will into probate. Decedent Isabel Wilner died at age 91 in March 2011. Decedent never married. Her intestate heirs were her niece, appellee Dana Wilner and her nephew David Wilner, who was not involved in this litigation. Charles Welles, Esq., a lawyer in Tunkhannock, drafted a will for Decedent, nominating Decedent’s friend Margaret Young as executrix and naming the Decedent's church as the primary beneficiary. Decedent executed the will in June 2007. Attorney Welles made two conformed copies of the will: one copy for his files and gave the other copy was the original will and given to Decedent. Decedent’s live-in caregiver was appellant Linda Baker, a close friend and a cousin by marriage. In April 2010, Attorney Welles prepared two additional documents for Decedent: a codicil which specifically referenced the June 2007 will and changed the executrix from Young to Baker, and a deed transferring ownership of Decedent’s Tunkhannock home to the Pennsylvania church while retaining a life estate. The executed deed was recorded with the county recorder of deeds. As for the codicil, Attorney Welles followed the same procedure as with the will: he made conformed copies, kept one copy for his files, and gave the original and a conformed copy to Decedent. Decedent died on March 16, 2011. Shortly thereafter, Baker went to Decedent’s house to retrieve the will. She discovered that the will had been removed from a downstairs metal box, although other items – including two original codicils and the envelope that had contained the will – were still there. When Baker checked an upstairs safe, she found that all papers had been removed, including a conformed copy of the will. Baker conducted a thorough search of the home but was unable to locate any of the missing items. Without the original will, Baker sought to have Attorney Welles’ conformed copy of the will, together with the original codicils, entered into probate. The court held two evidentiary hearings to determine whether the conformed copy of the will, as produced by Attorney Welles from his files, should have been accepted into probate. During the hearings, the witnesses to the will (members of Attorney Welles' office) testified that they saw Decedent execute the will. However, only one was able to testify to the will’s contents, stating that the terms appearing in the conformed copy accurately reflected the contents of the original will. The Superior Court reversed, concluding that the orphans’ court erred in accepting the conformed copy on the testimony of a single witness. The Supreme Court granted further review to consider the continuing vitality of the two-witness rule and, in particular, whether it properly applied to a will’s contents, as opposed to its execution. Finding that the Superior Court erred in reversing the orphans' court's order, the Supreme Court reinstated the original order. View "In re: Estate of Wilner" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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The decedent resided in Appellants’ long-term skilled nursing care facility between March and August, 2010. Due to the alleged abuse and neglect inflicted upon her throughout her stay, Decedent suffered a multitude of injuries and illnesses that eventually resulted in her death. Appellee filed suit claiming Appellants knowingly sacrificed the quality of care given to their residents. Relevant to this appeal, Appellants filed preliminary objections seeking to enforce an arbitration agreement which Appellee signed, along with general admission paperwork upon Decedent’s admission to the facility. Appellants appealed the Superior Court’s decision affirming, in relevant part, the trial court’s order overruling Appellants’ preliminary objections seeking to compel arbitration and reserving for trial the underlying negligence action filed by Appellee, daughter of the decedent, and executrix of Decedent’s estate. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court and remanded this case to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Wert v. Manorcare of Carlisle" on Justia Law

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Andre Leonti, a resident of Fayette County, died intestate in 2006. Thereafter, Cheryl Keefer, a purported friend of Decedent, filed a petition with the Register for the grant of letters of administration which listed the heirs and personal assets of Decedent as "unknown" and indicated that there was no real estate. The Register refused to grant letters to Keefer because she did not have Decedent's death certificate, was not his next of kin, and, therefore, was not a person entitled to letters. Keefer, through her attorney, filed a petition to authorize the Register to issue letters to her without producing a death certificate and further directing the Mon Valley Hospital to release the Decedent's remains for a funeral and burial. Keefer attached a purported copy of a power of attorney executed by Decedent. No one contested this petition, and, on the same day the petition was filed, the orphan's court issued an order authorizing and directing the Register to issue letters "without the necessity of requiring a death certificate," and further ordering and directing the Hospital to release Decedent's remains to Keefer for funeral and burial. In compliance with this order, the Register issued letters to Keefer, but did not secure a bond from her. Several months later, Keefer filed with the Register an inventory of the estate. One month later, Appellee Elvira Dorsey, a resident of Texas who claimed to be Decedent's niece, became aware of Decedent's estate, and alleged she was the sole surviving heir of Decedent. Appellee petitioned for Keefer's removal as administratrix. The orphan's court granted Appellee's petition, issued an order, and required Keefer to deliver to Appellee the custody and possession of Decedent's estate's assets. Keefer, however, did not deliver the assets of the estate to Appellee. The orphan's court issued an order holding Keefer in contempt, sentencing Keefer to six months imprisonment, and directing that a verdict be entered in favor of Appellee and against Keefer in the amount of $192,769.19. Appellee filed praecipes for entry of judgment with the Fayette County Prothonotary and the Register to enter judgment against Keefer. Appellee then filed a complaint against the Register, individually, and Western Surety Company, alleging that the Register and Surety were liable for damages resulting from the Register's failure to secure bonding, which, Appellee asserted, was required by law. In this appeal by allowance, the primary issue this case presented to the Supreme Court was the applicability of governmental and official immunity with respect to a claim alleging a violation of bonding requirements mandated under the Probate, Estates and Fiduciaries Code ("PEF Code"). Ultimately, the Court held that the General Assembly intended that 20 Pa.C.S.A. 3172 created a targeted form of accountability for such registers, resting outside the scope of governmental and official immunity. Therefore, the Fayette County Register of Wills was not immune under the Tort Claims Act from liability for an alleged violation of Section 3172. The case was remanded back to the orphan's court for an assessment of the applicability of the the immunity defense, and for a more developed factual record. View "Dorsey v. Redman" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was whether the Commonwealth Court correctly interpreted 24 Pa.C.S. 8507(e) to require that the Public School Employees' Retirement System nomination of benefits form be completed in its entirely in the member/decedent's own hand in order to effectuate a valid change of beneficiary. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that the Commonwealth Court erred, and held that the Board correctly determined that under the facts of this case, section 8507(e) allowed for distribution of retirement benefits at issue to the appellant. View "Snizaski v. Public School Employees' Retirement Board" on Justia Law

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The issue before the Supreme Court in this case was whether a pathologist was competent to testify as an expert witness regarding the standard of care in a medical malpractice action asserted against a board-certified general surgeon. Decedent Mildred Anderson sought treatment from surgeon Gary McAfoos, M.D. Shortly thereafter, Mrs. Anderson took a turn for the worse and died from sepsis in response to surgery ultimately conducted by Dr. McAfoos and his practice partners. Mrs. Anderson's estate sued, and at trial proferred the testimony of a pathologist, who asserted that Dr. McAfoos and his agents' acts fell below ordinary standards of care by allowing Mrs. Anderson's discharge from the hospital despite certain indicators that she was suffering from a serious infection (that ultimately lead to her death). The doctor objected to Mrs. Anderson's use of the pathologist as an expert, arguing he was incompetent to assess the standard of care on a doctor who sees patients, "[h]e can't possibly second guess care and treatment on a patient when he doesn't see patients." The trial court sustained the objection to the expert's testimony; subsequently the doctor moved for nonsuit which was granted. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that Mrs. Anderson did not properly preserve her claim that the expert's credentials satisfied the requirements of the state competency statute, and accordingly, could not advance her contention that he should have been allowed to render standard-of-care testimony against a board-certified surgeon. View "Anderson v. McAfoos, et al" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from a medical malpractice action brought by Appellant Thomas Bruckshaw as Administrator of the Estate of Patricia Bruckshaw (Decedent) and in his own right, against Appellees Frankford Hospital of Philadelphia (Frankford Hospital), Jefferson Health System, Inc., Brian P. Priest, M.D., and Randy Metcalf, M.D. The issue before the Supreme Court was whether a court was empowered to remove a principal juror without any reason and without any notice to the parties, and replace her with the last possible alternate, without notice, after all evidence was submitted and the jury had already retired to deliberate. Upon review, the Court concluded that the removal of a juror can only be done by a trial court, on the record, with notice to the parties, for cause. Furthermore, the Court concluded that the trial court committed reversible error for which the aggrieved party was not required to demonstrate prejudice. View "Bruckshaw v. Frankford Hospital" on Justia Law

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Appellants Highland Park Care Center, L.L.C. and Grane Healthcare Company appealed the decision of the Superior Court to reverse the grant of a nonsuit in part, affirm the denial of a nonsuit in part, and award a new trial to Appellee Richard Scampone, the executor of the estate of Madeline Scampone. Upon review of the case, the Supreme Court held that a nursing home and affiliated entities are subject to potential direct liability for negligence, where the requisite resident-entity relationship exists to establish that the entity owes the resident a duty of care. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the Superior Court in part, but for reasons that differed from the Superior Court, and remanded the case back to that court for further proceedings. View "Scampone v. Highland Park Care Center, LLC, et al." on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Attorney General appealed a superior court's order that reversed the Philadelphia County Orphans' Court order which held Wachovia Bank was not entitled to receive commissions from the principal of an estate for its trust administration services. The Decedent Anna Fridenberg passed away in 1940, leaving the residue of her estate and other property to a trust for five named individuals no longer living. The remainder of the net income was to be given to the Jewish Hospital Association of Philadelphia. Wachovia Bank was the trustee to the Friedenberg estate and filed the annual accounting of the estate. The accounting also included requests for commissions to be paid out of principal for Wachovia and one of the individual successors. The Attorney General objected to this request, arguing the law in effect at the time the trust was created prevented parties who served as both executors and trustees under a will from receiving more than one commission from principal. The Attorney General noted Wachovia's corporate predecessor already received a commission from principal for its services; therefore, Wachovia was not entitled to another commission from principal. The Orphans' court sustained the objection, holding the law at the time the trust was created barred more than one commission from principal, despite subsequent changes in the law that now allow more than one commission. Wachovia appealed, and the Superior Court reversed, holding that the numerous legislative enactments over the past half-century permitting more than one commission for previously established trusts were constitutionally valid. Upon review, the Supreme Court agreed with the Superior Court's ruling and affirmed that court's decision. View "In re: Estate of Fridenberg" on Justia Law

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The issue on appeal to the Supreme Court in this case pertained to the extent to which the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) preempted the Pennsylvania Probate, Estates and Fiduciaries Code, 20 Pa.C.S. 6111.2. The Decedent Paul Sauers, III obtained a $40,000 life insurance policy in 1997 from the Hartford Life Insurance Company pursuant to a employee group benefit plan which was subject to ERISA. At the time of his death, Decedent's beneficiaries were his ex-spouse and his nephew as contingent beneficiary. William F. Sauers, administrator of Decedent’s estate, filed in the Orphans’ Court of York County a petition for rule to show cause why primary beneficiary ex-Spouse should not have surrendered to the Contingent Beneficiary all interest in the proceeds of the insurance policy pursuant to 20 Pa.C.S. 6111.2. The ex-spouse objected and filed a motion to dismiss the petition for rule to show cause, arguing that regardless of any Pennsylvania statute to the contrary, ERISA mandated taht the proceeds of the policy be paid to her as the primary beneficiary of the policy. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that while an estate may properly bring a cause of action on behalf of a contingent beneficiary to a life insurance policy in a county orphans’ court seeking the proper distribution of assets, ultimately, ERISA preempts Section 6111.2 of the Probate Code. To the extent the en banc panel of the Superior Court held otherwise, the Court reversed and remanded this appeal to that court for further proceedings. View "In Re: Estate of Sauers" on Justia Law