Appeal from decree of Orphans' Court of Beaver County, No. 300 of 1965, in re estate of Clara Behnaman Taylor, deceased.
Peter O. Steege, with him R. Clifton Hood, and Evans and Hood, for appellants.
Edwin M. Wallover, with him Wallover, Barrickman and Reed, for appellee.
Samuel C. Holland, Special Assistant Attorney General, Charles A. Woods, Jr., Deputy Attorney General, and Edward Friedman, Attorney General, for Commonwealth, as parens patriae for charitable trusts.
Bell, C. J., Musmanno, Jones, Cohen, Eagen, O'Brien and Roberts, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Roberts.
This appeal from the decree of the Orphans' Court of Beaver County challenges the entry of judgment on the pleadings for proponents and the dismissal of contestants'
appeal from the probate of the will of Clara Behnaman Taylor, deceased. Prior to entry of judgment the court sustained preliminary objections filed by the proponents to contestants' amended petition alleging that the will had been procured by undue influence. The sole issue before us is whether contestants' averments meet the requirement of Section 3, Rule 4(a) (3) of Sup. Ct. O.C. Rules that the petition set forth "a concise statement of the facts relied upon to justify the relief desired." See also Local Rule 46 of Beaver County Orphans' Court.
The averments relevant to the charge of undue influence assert that the influence was exerted by an attorney who stood in a confidential relationship with the decedent, and who, two years before her death, prepared in his own handwriting the will accepted for probate. It is agreed by all parties that the attorney, a stranger to the blood of the decedent and the only witness to the will, was named sole executor of the estate and received a gift of decedent's real estate thereunder. Moreover, it is alleged that at the time of the execution of the will, decedent was physically infirm and of weakened mentality.
The appellee's argument, accepted by the court below, that the contestants' pleadings lacked sufficient specificity which would enable the attorney scrivener to defend against the charge of undue influence, assumes the very point in question, namely, upon whom the burden of producing evidence regarding undue influence rests. In Abrams Will, 419 Pa. 92, 99, 213 A.2d 638, 642 (1965), Mr. Justice Jones succinctly restated the law: "As to undue influence, certain principles are established beyond question: (1) there is a presumption of the absence of undue influence and the initial burden of proof is on the contestant; (2) absent evidence of weakened intellect, the burden is upon those asserting it to prove undue influence even though the
bulk of the estate is left to those occupying a confidential relationship; (3) when there is evidence of confidential relation coupled with weakened intellect, the burden of proof shifts to the proponent: Quein Will, 361 Pa. 133, 145, 62 ...