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DART ESTATE (07/24/67)

decided: July 24, 1967.

DART ESTATE


Appeal from decree of Orphans' Court of Lawrence County, June T., 1963, No. 42, in re estate of Iretta V. Dart, deceased.

COUNSEL

Sherman K. Levine, for appellant.

Perry L. Reeher, for appellee.

Bell, C. J., Musmanno, Jones, Cohen, Eagen, O'Brien and Roberts, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Jones. Mr. Justice Roberts concurs in the result.

Author: Jones

[ 426 Pa. Page 297]

This is an appeal from a decree of the Orphans' Court of Lawrence County dismissing exceptions to the first and final Account of the administrator c.t.a. of the estate of Iretta V. Dart (decedent) and disallowing Mary E. Oberleitner's (appellant's) claim in the amount of $1,440 against the estate for services allegedly rendered to decedent.

Iretta V. Dart, a retired school teacher, died on December 27, 1959, aged 88 years. For many years, decedent owned a home in New Castle, Pennsylvania, of which she occupied a first-floor apartment and rented two second-floor apartments. For some time prior to decedent's death, one of the second-floor apartments was occupied by the present appellant. For several years prior to her death, decedent was somewhat physically handicapped due to a hip injury and cataracts.

The basis of appellant's claim is that at irregular periods during the years 1957-1959,*fn1 she rendered domestic and personal services to the decedent, i.e., she did decedent's laundry, cleaned her apartment, did the cooking and performed other general household chores. As there was no written contract between appellant and decedent, the claim is on a quantum meruit basis.*fn2

The lower court dismissed the claim on two grounds: (a) appellant failed to present "clear, precise and convincing"

[ 426 Pa. Page 298]

    evidence to establish her claim and (b) appellant failed to present evidence sufficient to rebut the presumption of periodic payment for the services. The present appeal challenges such conclusions.

Before turning to an analysis of the evidence presented by appellant in support of her claim, certain guidelines and criteria delineated by our case law with respect to claims of this nature must be set forth: (1) "Claims of this nature against dead men's estates, resting entirely in parol, based largely upon loose declarations, presented generally years after the services in question were rendered, and when the lips of the party principally interested are closed in death, require the closest and most careful scrutiny to prevent injustice being done." Walls' Appeal, 111 Pa. 460, 471, 5 A. 220 (1886). See also: Mooney's Estate, 328 Pa. 273, 274, 194 A. 893 (1937); (2) all claims against the estate of a decedent must be proven by evidence which is clear, precise and convincing: Petrov v. Secary Estate, 403 Pa. 540, 542, 170 A.2d 325 (1961); Liggins Estate, 393 Pa. 500, 505, 143 A.2d 349 (1958); Stafford v. Reed, 363 Pa. 405, 70 A.2d 345 (1950); (3) appellant, proceeding on a quantum meruit theory, has the burden of proving (a) the performance of services, (b) the decedent's acceptance of them, and (c) their value: Lach v. Fleth, 361 Pa. 340, 348, 64 A.2d 821 (1949); (4) appellant must overcome a presumption that any services rendered were paid for from time to time while they continued, a presumption which will gather strength with each succeeding year and the evidence to overthrow it must, of course, be ...


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