Appeals from decrees and order of Orphans' Court of McKean County, Dec. T., 1946, No. 35, in case of William B. Miller, Merton J. Miller, Jean Marie Miller King et al. v. Harriet A. Hawkins, formerly Harriet A. Miller, in her own right and as executrix of estate of W. B. Miller, deceased, et al.; June T., 1954, No. 27, in the matter of estate of W. B. Miller, deceased, William B. Miller, Merton J. Miller, Jean Miller King et al. v. Harriet A. Hawkins, formerly Harriet A. Miller, etc., et al.; and Oct. T., 1963, No. 18, in the matter of estate of Harriet A. Hawkins, deceased.
John W. English, with him John A. Bowler, and English, Gilson, Bowler, Shamp & Levin, for appellants.
R. T. Mutzabaugh, with him Mutzabaugh & Mutzabaugh, for appellees.
Bell, C. J., Musmanno, Jones, Cohen, Eagen, O'Brien and Roberts, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Jones.
These three appeals attack, respectively, the validity of two decrees and an order of the Orphans' Court of McKean County entered in three separate actions all bottomed upon alleged misconduct on the part of Harriet Miller Hawkins while acting as the executrix of the Estate of W. B. Miller, deceased.*fn1
W. B. Miller (decedent), a McKean County resident, died, testate, on November 25, 1936. By will, he disposed of his estate in the following manner: 15% to his brother Frank Miller, 15% to his sister Lillie Oliver, 55% to his wife Harriet Miller (later Mrs. Hawkins), and 15% to his brother Glenn Miller. Glenn Miller predeceased decedent leaving a wife, Autumn Miller (later Autumn Orso), and four children (the present appellants), all of whom were minors when decedent died.*fn2 Harriet Miller (Mrs. Hawkins),
was named and served for 25 years as sole personal representative of decedent's estate.
Among decedent's assets were: (1) fee-owned tracts of oil producing land situated in McKean County; (2) a lease-hold interest in an eight acre tract of oil producing land in McKean County; (3) a 3/8 ths interest in a partnership known as Bradford Petroleum Company (Bradford Petroleum). Assets (1) and (2), known as the "Tip Top Properties" (Tip Top), were non-contiguous properties upon which were located, inter alia, 111 oil wells and 48 water wells. Asset (3) was a 3/8 ths interest in a partnership, composed of decedent, one H. W. Loveland and one C. M. Oliver, which owned oil and gas leases and tracts of oil producing land with valuable improvements and equipment thereon located in McKean County. Mrs. Hawkins, as executrix, operated all the properties represented by these assets, including the partnership itself, after decedent's death for many years.
Approximately three years after decedent's death, the National Bank and Trust Company of Erie, (Bank), acting as appellants' guardian, petitioned the Orphans' Court of McKean County for permission to sell, at private sale, appellants' 15% interest in Tip Top for $20,000. By order of that court, on January 25, 1940, appellants' interest in Tip Top was sold to a purchaser, undisclosed in the sale petition, Mrs. Hawkins as an individual. Approximately six months after decedent's death, Mrs. Hawkins had purchased the 3/8 ths interest of decedent's estate in Bradford Petroleum for a stated consideration of $48,700.99 but an actual consideration of $75,000*fn3 and, shortly after her marriage to Lynn Hawkins, she transferred this
/8 ths interest in Bradford Petroleum to Lynn Hawkins as a gift.
On December 12, 1946, the appellants -- having all then attained their majority -- petitioned the Orphans' Court of McKean County (25 December Term, 1946) to set aside the Bank's 1940 deed of conveyance of appellants' interest in Tip Top, for an accounting and to have Mrs. Hawkins declared a constructive trustee of their interest in Tip Top. Hearings on this petition were not held until June and July of 1960 -- fourteen years later -- and Judge Hubbard, the then President Judge of the Orphans' Court of McKean County, on December 23, 1963, entered a decree nisi dismissing appellants' petition. On March 31, 1964, Judge Mencer, the present President Judge, affirming Judge Hubbard, entered a final decree from which an appeal has been taken (246 March Term, 1964).
On June 1, 1954, appellants petitioned the Orphans' Court of McKean County (27 June Term, 1954) to set aside the sale of decedent's interest in Bradford Petroleum, for an accounting and a declaration that Mrs. Hawkins, Lynn Hawkins and all subsequent transferees of said interest be declared constructive trustees. Hearings on that petition were held in July 1960 -- six years later -- and again President Judge Hubbard on December 27, 1963, entered a decree nisi dismissing appellants' petition and on March 31, 1964, President Judge Mencer, affirming Judge Hubbard, entered a final decree from which an appeal has been taken (247 March Term, 1964).
Mrs. Hawkins died, testate, on June 10, 1961, and, under her will, Lynn Hawkins, her husband, was named executor of her estate. Two days after the expiration of the twelve month period, subsequent to the last advertisement of the grant of letters testamentary but prior to filing any inventory or account in the estate, Lynn Hawkins distributed all the assets of the
Estate of Mrs. Hawkins to the persons entitled under her will. On August 19, 1963, appellants petitioned the Orphans' Court of McKean County (18 October Term, 1963) to require Lynn Hawkins to file an accounting of his administration of the estate and to file surety bonds; after hearing, the court directed that Lynn Hawkins file such accounting and post surety bonds totaling $350,000. Thereafter, Lynn Hawkins, having failed to file surety bonds in accordance with the court order, was held in contempt of court. In December 1963 the appellants cited Lynn Hawkins and those persons to whom distribution of the Estate of Mrs. Hawkins had been made to show cause why the assets distributed to them should not be returned to the court and also to show cause why the person of Lynn Hawkins should not be attached for contempt. On March 31, 1964, President Judge Mencer dismissed both petitions and from that order an appeal has been taken (273 March Term, 1964).
This consolidated record indicates that, in the first two actions, appellants seek restoration of their interests in decedent's estate which they claim were illegally and improperly disposed of by Mrs. Hawkins acting as fiduciary for the Miller Estate and, in the third action, appellants seek to preserve the assets of the Mrs. Hawkins Estate until such time as their claims in the first two actions are established.
Action To Set Aside Guardian's Sale of Appellants' Interest in Tip Top (246 March Term, 1964)
In this action, the 1946 action, appellants endeavored to set aside the 1940 court-approved guardian's sale of their interest in Tip Top to Mrs. Hawkins personally. The basis of this action was that Mrs. Hawkins, while acting as fiduciary of the Miller Estate, improperly induced the Bank, guardian of appellants'
interests, to sell appellants' interest in Tip Top to her for $20,000, an unfair, inadequate and improvident consideration; that, by fraud, misrepresentation and concealment of essential facts, the Bank was induced to request the court to approve the sale; that the court was misled, by misrepresentation, fraud and concealment, to approve the sale; ...