Appeal from decree of Orphans' Court of Allegheny County, No. 792 of 1964, in re estate of Belle Richards, deceased.
Harbaugh Miller, with him James Wilson Crawford, and Miller, Hay, Entwisle & Duff, for appellant.
John G. Frazer, Jr., with him Judd N. Poffinberger, Jr., and Kirkpatrick, Pomeroy, Lockhart & Johnson, for appellee.
Bell, C. J., Musmanno, Jones, Cohen, Eagen, O'Brien and Roberts, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Musmanno. Mr. Justice Jones, Mr. Justice Cohen, Mr. Justice Eagen and Mr. Justice Roberts concur in the result.
Miss Belle Richards died in her home on February 4, 1964, at the age of 78. An unsealed envelope addressed to her attorney was found in her desk. The envelope contained 6 yellow sheets of pencil writing and one white-ruled paper covered with writing in both ink and pencil. The 7 sheets were offered for
probate before the Register of Wills of Allegheny County who admitted to probate the 6 sheets as constituting a good and valid will and rejected the 7th sheet since it bore no signature.
Miss Richards' estate has been assessed at the value of $798,923.32, an amount prepossessing enough to attract relatives, no matter how far removed lineally. The relatives in this case are first and second cousins who were left nothing in the will. The leonine beneficiary of the testamentary disposition, if it is upheld, is the Pittsburgh Foundation, a charitable institution. If the Pittsburgh Foundation, named as the residuary legatee, is eliminated, the first and second cousins, as next of kin, stand to receive approximately 93% of $798,923.32. This windfall will descend on the next of kin or the Pittsburgh Foundation, according to how the Court rules on the following set of facts.
An examination of the 6 yellow sheets in question would reasonably establish that, in contemplation of her demise, Miss Richards made an inventory of her possessions and decided how she would distribute them among those who had withstood the winds of time and had remained within the halls of her memory of remembrance. On the first of the yellow pages, writing in lead pencil all the time, she listed rather informally by first names, certain of her friends and then at the bottom of the page referred to them more specifically. Then, physically or mentally, she toured her house and picked out furniture, linens, bric-a-brac, lamps, paintings and assigned them to this person and that person, often speaking to her favored legatees familiarly as if they were in her presence. She took note of her cousins only to the extent that she made no mention of them at all. It appears that they had had no contact with her in recent years and, although, of course, she could not have known this when she was preparing her will, they were not to visit her at the time of her death.
Engaged as she was in nostalgically recalling her associates and rewarding them with gifts of money or with tangible presents of some kind, she apparently overlooked, in disposing of the islands, the continent of her estate, namely, the stocks and bonds which made up the most of her fortune. On the 6th page she wrote "My Last Will & Testament the 3rd of May 1961." Below this she signed her name. As she surveyed what she had written, it apparently appeared to her that she could have done a better job with her handwriting so she wrote: "I'll have this done better if I have the time." Nevertheless, so long as she had committed herself to the testamentary task she went on, just in case this was indeed to be the last time she would address herself to the subject, and wrote "My jewelry I don't know. Sell it I guess --". And now, here, the continent of her fortune she disposed of with "& the balance of My Estate to go to The Pittsburgh Foundation." She then wrote in "(over)" and on the back side of the sheet, as if to confirm the identity of the residuary legatee, she wrote "I believe it is called -- The one that gives to all or many needed Charities." And here she signed her name again, but she did not add the date again.
The first and second cousins saw in this omission of the date a weakening of the wall which had excluded them entirely from Miss Richards' fortune, and so they brought into play the battering ram of § 7 of the 1947 Wills Act (20 P.S. § 180.7) to knock down the wall entirely. That crucial section reads: "Any bequest or devise for religious or charitable purposes included in a will or codicil executed within thirty days of the death of ...