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ZAKATOFF WILL (05/23/51)

May 23, 1951

ZAKATOFF WILL


Appeal, No. 71, March T., 1951, from decree of Orphans' Court of Allegheny County, 1946, No. 5085, in Estate of George V. Zakatoff, also known as George Zakatoff or Georgey Zakatow or Georchi W. Zakatoff or George W. Zakatoff, Deceased. Decree affirmed; reargument refused June 27, 1951.

COUNSEL

R. J. Lucksha, with him Charles Recht, for appellant.

James P. McArdle, with him Paul J. McArdle, for appellee.

Before Drew, C.j., Stern, Jones, Bell, Ladner and Chidsey, JJ.

Author: Bell

[ 367 Pa. Page 543]

OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE BELL

This is an appeal from the decree of the Orphans' Court of Allegheny County refusing an issue devastavit

[ 367 Pa. Page 544]

    vel non and dismissing an appeal from the decree of the Register of Wills, which admitted to probate the last will of George V. Zakatoff, dated December 29, 1945. Zakatoff, who came to America in 1912, died in Pittsburgh on September 17, 1946. Appellant, an alien non-resident Russian who alleges he is decedent's brother, contends that the aforesaid will was a forgery and that an issue should be granted thereon. His argument is based almost entirely on the fact that the will was signed by a mark, plus inferences and conclusions from inconsequential testimony which he alleges casts doubts and suspicion upon the validity of the will. His petition for an issue was joined in by an escheator appointed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, though their ultimate interests were conflicting and irreconcilable.

Zakatoff, in his very short will, authorized his executor to look after his burial; left $250.00 to his friend Ben Gover; $100.00 to his friend Paul Zenchenko; $100.00 for a Russian Language School in the United States; and "5. The balance of my estate remaining, I leave entirely to may friend George E. Park. I trust and believe in Mr. Park's ability to help my close relations as much as possible if they are still living in Novozibkow in Russia ".*fn* Zakatoff appointed George E. Park to be executor; and then made his mark at the end of the will.

It may not be amiss to note at this point that contestant proved by his three strongest witnesses that Zakatoff told them he believed his father, mother, sister and brother were all dead and that he had no living relatives. Instead of aiding contestant's case, this testimony seems to us to give plausible explanation and ample justification for the omission of any specific bequest to Zakatoff's brother and for the testamentary

[ 367 Pa. Page 545]

    gift of the residuary estate to Park, trusting in his ability to help testator's close relations if they are still living in Novozibkow.

The circumstances surrounding the execution of the will may be briefly summarized as follows: Zakatoff, James G. Hilvick, George E. Park, and a friend of Mr. Park, Mrs. Elvira Sack, met in Thompson's Restaurant on Fourth Avenue, in Pittsburgh, about 10:00 a.m. on December 29, 1945. This was a well known meeting place for Russian speaking people. Hilvick was a student of the Russian language and came there that morning at the invitation of Zakatoff and Park and Mrs. Sack came there at Park's request, to witness a will. Zakatoff took from his inside coat pocket a writing which he asserted to be his will and requested Hilvick and Mrs. Sack to act as subscribing witnesses. The handwriting was in the Russian Language. Zakatoff signed the paper in the presence of Hilvick and Mrs. Sack. Hilvick witnessed it but Mrs. Sack refused to witness it because she did not understand the Russian language and would not sign anything she did not understand. Her ...


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