Paul A. McGlone, Frank J. McDonnell, Scranton, for appellant.
Joseph S. Needle, Ralph P. Needle, Scranton, for appellee.
Before Rhodes, P. J., and Hirt, Reno, Dithrich, Ross, and Arnold, JJ.
[ 170 Pa. Super. Page 75]
On petition of Irene and Edward Hudak a guardian was appointed for the estate of their mother, Anna Hudak, whom the court below decreed to be 'without mental capacity to take care of her property' within the meaning of the Act of May 28, 1907, P.L. 292, 50 P.S. § 941 et seq. Respondent filed exceptions to the decree; the exceptions were dismissed and this appeal followed.
[ 170 Pa. Super. Page 76]
After a comprehensive and painstaking review of the record in this case, we can reach no other conclusion than that the learned court below failed to give due regard to the admonition by the late Chief Justice Maxey that 'It is a serious thing to deprive any person of the control of their own property or of their right to dispose of it by will. This right will be judicially taken away from a person only after preponderating proof of [his] lack of mental capacity to manage [his] own business affairs'. (Emphasis added.) Denner v. Beyer, 352 Pa. 386, 397, 42 A.2d 747, 752. We cannot help but feel that if the learned court below had given proper heed to that warning it would not have found 'preponderating proof that she [respondent] is lacking in mental capacity to manage her own business affairs'; but, to the contrary, would have found, as the Supreme Court found in Denner v. Beyer, supra, 352 Pa. at page 397, 42 A.2d at page 752, that 'There is no such proof in this record. In fact, the proof strongly preponderates in favor of this respondent.'
The most that can be said of petitioners' evidence, coupled with the admissions of respondent, is that for several years during the lifetime of her husband respondent was excessively jealous of him and suffered hallucinations and delusions in respect of his relationship with other women. But according to the refreshingly frank and straightforward testimony of Michael J. Hudak, one of the sons, his mother had good reason to be jealous of his father. Michael testified that his father 'was gay with women' the same as was he, the son, a 'man of the road' and a 'salesman all * * * [his] life * * *. She was jealous, yes, always has been jealous, and she had a reason to be jealous * * *.'
The most enlightening medical testimony in the case was that of Dr. F. H. Leavitt, a 'nationally known' psychiatrist of Philadelphia. Seven physicians in all testified -- four for the petitioners and three for the respondent -- and the reason we say that Dr. Leavitt's testimony
[ 170 Pa. Super. Page 77]
was the most enlightening is not only because he was so eminently qualified to form and express an opinion but because he was the only psychiatrist whose testimony went directly to the condition of the respondent at the time of trial. Since November 27, 1950, a few days following the death of respondent's husband, she had been making her home with her son Francis in Philadelphia. She was examined there by Dr. Leavitt on December 8, 1950, and in Scranton on December 26, the day he testified. With the exception of Dr. Killeen, a surgeon with considerable psychiatric experience, who has known respondent for years and who examined her December 14, the day before the beginning of the trial, none of the other physicians had examined her for more than a year prior thereto. 'The point to be decided was the mental condition of [respondent] at the time of trial, with respect to [her] ability to take care of [her] property, and whether [she] is liable to dissipate or lose the same and become the victim of designing persons'. Ryman's Case, 139 Pa. Super. 212, 216, 11 A.2d 677, 679; Nagy Appeal, 169 Pa. Super. 388, 390, 82 A.2d 591.
The gist of the medical testimony offered by petitioners was that since respondent had been suffering from paranoid psychosis or paranoic schizophrenia -- a comparatively recent terminology for the same affliction -- when they examined or treated her, she could not be expected ever to completely ...