Appeal from decree of Orphans' Court of Montgomery County, No. 98,836, in re estate of Frederick C. Van Gilder, deceased.
H. Ober Hess, with him Benjamin R. Neilson, and Ballard, Spahr, Andrews & Ingersoll, for appellant.
Roland Fleer, with him Frank J. Strassner, Jr., and Waters, Fleer, Cooper & Gallagher, for appellees.
Bell, C. J., Musmanno, Jones, Cohen, Eagen, O'Brien and Roberts, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Roberts. Mr. Justice Cohen dissents. Concurring and Dissenting Opinion by Mr. Chief Justice Bell.
This appeal raises the single question of whether three unsigned holographic writings are entitled to probate as part of the Will of Frederick C. Van Gilder, Deceased.
The question was certified to the Orphans' Court of Montgomery County by the Register of Wills pursuant to the Act of June 28, 1951, P. L. 638, § 207, 20 P.S. § 1840.207.*fn1 The court concluded that the writings formed integral parts of a single integrated instrument consisting of the three disputed sheets and two others, conceded by the parties to be admissible for probate. Accordingly, a decree was entered directing the Register of Wills to admit the disputed writings to probate as part of the will of Frederick C. Van Gilder, Deceased. This appeal followed.
Frederick C. Van Gilder died at the age of 79 on October 18, 1964. At his death, Mr. Van Gilder, a widower without issue, left an estate of $225,000.
During decedent's lifetime, he had directed the attention of his housekeeper to an envelope kept in his desk and had instructed her that upon his death the envelope was to be delivered to Mr. Walter Schembs, an attorney and long time friend of decedent.
On the day of decedent's death, Mr. Schembs received a telephone call advising him of the fact and requesting that he come to decedent's home immediately. Upon his arrival, he met Mrs. William Nelson and Mr. and Mrs. Harry W. Hollingsworth, Sr., relatives of the decedent, and in their presence removed the envelope, referred to previously, from the decedent's desk. Prior to Mr. Schembs' arrival, the contents of the envelope had not been examined by the persons there present.
The envelope, a plain, white envelope of standard size, was without any imprinting and was unsealed. On the front was written in decedent's handwriting the following:
"In case of death of Frederick C. Van Gilder
this goes to Walter Schembs
Notify Harry W. Hollingsworth
Mr. Schembs removed the contents of the envelope and exhibited them to the others present. The envelope contained five sheets of plain, white paper, all of the same size: 8 1/2" by 11". In the recollection of Mr. Schembs and Mr. Hollingsworth, the papers were fastened together by a paper clip; Mrs. Nelson has no such recollection.
Upon their removal from the envelope, the five sheets were found to be arranged in the following fashion: "All had been folded twice horizontally into approximately one-third their vertical lengths: the first four sheets were folded together; the bottom one-third of the last sheet was folded over its middle one-third, then the top two-thirds were folded about the first four sheets ...