Appeal, No. 119, Jan. T., 1961, from decree of Orphans' Court of Lancaster County, No. 492 of 1957, in re estate of Beatrice J. Murray (also known as Bridie Murray), deceased. Appeal quashed.
Robert Ruppin, for appellant.
John Milton Ranck, with him Herbert S. Levy, W. Roger Simpson, and Appel, Ranck, Levy & Appel, for appellees.
Before Jones, C.j., Bell, Musmanno, Jones, Cohen, Bok and Eagen, JJ.
OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE BENJAMIN R. JONES.
This appeal attacks the propriety of the action of the Orphans' Court of Lancaster County in directing a trial by jury of certain issues of fact involved in an appeal to that court from the probate by the register of wills of an unsigned copy of the last will of Beatrice J. Murray, allegedly destroyed or suppressed by someone other than decedent.
Beatrice J. Murray, a resident of Lancaster County, died May 9, 1957, survived by three sisters, Kathleen Helm, Mary Murray, and Ella Grady, and one brother, Patrick Murray.*fn1 Letters of administration were granted by the register of wills to Kathleen Helm.*fn2
Approximately six months later, the Lancaster County National Bank of Lancaster [the Bank] petitioned the register for the probate of an unsigned copy of a will which decedent allegedly executed on June 29, 1956 and which was thereafter destroyed or suppressed by a person other than decedent, for the issuance of letters testamentary to it as executor under that will and for the revocation of the letters of administration issued to Mrs. Helm. After taking testimony, the register found that decedent had executed her last will on June 29, 1956, that the unsigned copy bore substantial identity to the original will, that that will remained unrevoked at the time of her death and that the original of that will had been suppressed or destroyed by a person other than decedent. In accord with his findings, the register revoked the letters of
administration previously granted to Mrs. Helm, admitted the copy of the will of June 29, 1956 to probate and granted letters testamentary to the Bank.
This will provided, inter alia: (1) all debts and funeral expenses were to be paid; (2) a $1,000 bequest to decedent's church; (3) a $4,000 bequest in trust for Anna E. Doerr, a friend, the income to be paid to her for life and, on her death, the principal to become part of the residuary estate; (4) a division of the residuary estate into four "shares"; one "share" payable to Ella Grady (sister), one "share" payable to Patrick Murray (brother), one "share" payable to Eileen B. Grady (niece) and one "share" payable to Kathleen F. Grady (niece); in the event any of the named residuary legatees failed to survive decedent, the "share" of the person so dying was to be equally divided among the other named residuary legatees living in Ireland who survived decedent.*fn3 Under that will, the Bank was named executor and T. H. Wentz, Esq., - scrivener of the will - designated as estate counsel.
Approximately four months after the register's decree, Kathleen Helm and Mary Murray appealed to the orphans' court and a citation was issued to show cause why their appeals should not be sustained. At a hearing held before President Judge JOHN L. BOWMAN, the proponent of the will offered in evidence the register's record showing probate of a copy of the will and then rested. Then contestant (present appellant), by calling Attorney Wentz and his secretary as witnesses, proved that, after the will was executed by decedent and witnessed by Attorney Wentz and his secretary on June 29, 1956, the ...