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SIMON WILL. (04/18/55)

April 18, 1955

SIMON WILL.


Appeals, Nos. 37 and 38, March T., 1955, from decree of Orphans' Court of Allegheny County, 1949, No. 3153, in Estate of Rose Simon, also known as Rosi Simon, deceased, Mara Cieslak and Mara Cieslak, Exrx., John Cieslak, deceased, v. Julius J. Strba, Admr., Estate of Marie Svobodova, deceased. Decree affirmed; reargument refused April 27, 1955.

COUNSEL

John M. Gallagher, with him Michael A. Wolak, for appellants.

Drayton Heard, with him Heard & Heard, for appellee.

Before Stern, C.j., Stearne, Chidsey, Musmanno and Arnold, JJ.

Author: Stearne

[ 381 Pa. Page 285]

OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE ALLEN M. STEARNE

The appeals are from a decree of the Orphans' Court of Allegheny County dismissing proponents' motions for judgment non obstante veredicto or for a new trial following a verdict of a jury, in a consolidated trial of two issues devisavit vel non, which set aside and invalidated a probated will and declared invalid a later dated will offered for probate. The special verdict found that both wills had been obtained by proponents from decedent through undue influence, duress and constraint,

[ 381 Pa. Page 286]

    and that neither will had been prepared by or at the direction of decedent, nor had they been signed by her.

Rose Simon, the decedent, a widow, over eighty years of age, died July 7, 1949, without issue, leaving surviving as her sole next of kin a sister, Marie Svobodoa, the contestant, a resident of Czechoslovakia. The proponents are Mara Cieslak and her husband, John Cieslak. The sister-contestant and also proponent, John Cieslak, died during this litigation and their personal representatives have been substituted. The value of the estate is estimated at $40,000. The jury trial was held in the Orphans' Court, authorized by the Orphans' Court Act of August 10, 1951, P.L. 1163, sec. 746, 20 PS 2080.746. The trial was conducted by President Judge BOYLE with care and acumen. It required six days to try. The printed record constitutes over 775 pages and exhibits.

Since the testimony in this protracted contest has been so exhaustively and scrupulously considered by the trial Judge and by all the Judges of the learned court below, we will not again recite the facts in their minutiae.

Decedent was an aged, illiterate Croatian. She understood little English - "just a word here and there". Witnesses testified as to her inability to read, write and understand the English language. Apparently she could sign her name. Decedent lived alone in a rented apartment. It appeared that decedent and her sister, the contestant, remained on friendly terms. Proponents, the Cieslaks, were undertakers. It was testified that at or prior to 1943 Charles C. Cieslak, a brother of proponent, John Cieslak had been in the undertaking business ...


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