Appeal from decree of Orphans' Court of Warren County, Feb. T., 1966, No. 32, in the matter of estate of Montana O. Knupp, deceased.
Irving Murphy, with him Frederick F. Jones, and MacDonald, Illig, Jones & Britton, for appellant.
Robert Hampson, with him Hampson and Hampson, for appellee.
Bell, C. J., Musmanno, Jones, Cohen, Eagen, O'Brien and Roberts, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Chief Justice Bell. Dissenting Opinion by Mr. Justice Roberts. Mr. Justice Jones and Mr. Justice Eagen join in this dissenting opinion.
The question involved, in the last analysis, boils down to whether decedent signed a purported will at Page 411} the end thereof, as mandated by § 2 of the Wills Act of 1947.*fn1
Decedent, a spinster lady 64 years of age and the daughter of an attorney, resided in Warren County, Pennsylvania, where she had a home, and owned absolutely, or jointly with others, real property in Warren, Forest and McKean Counties. She left surviving her, three sisters, all of whom resided outside of Pennsylvania, an uncle who was a beneficiary, and a friend, Helen Nichols, who also was a beneficiary.
The controversial paper was in the handwriting of the decedent, except for the signatures of the subscribing witnesses. It was termed at the top "Will March 1, 1952." It commenced, "I, Montana O. Knupp. . . do make, declare, and publish the following as and for my Last Will and Testament. . . ." In paragraph "First," she directed the payment of her funeral expenses. In paragraph "Second," she gave to A. J. Knupp her undivided one-half interest in property which she jointly owned. In paragraph "Third," she devised her home and the furniture and personal belongings therein to Helen Nichols, the present appellant, upon conditions which are unnecessary to recite but which make the lawfulness of the devise or its conditions doubtful. In paragraph "Fourth" she gave all the rest, residue and remainder of her estate unto [a blank space]*fn2 and further provided therein that certain named property should be sold and her outstanding debts paid out of the proceeds of sale. In the
"Fifth" paragraph she gave to Dorothy Allen, one of the subscribing witnesses, "All the undivided interests with H. M. Honhart, M. V. Connelly." In the "Sixth" paragraph, she appointed Warren National Bank and Knox Harper executors, and further provided therein, "Any person or persons making any claims [even $5 or $10] shall have a claim and I give, devise and bequeath the sum of one hundred dollars to each person or persons."
There then follows the language which causes the present controversy:
"Signed, sealed, published and declared by the above named Testatrix, Montana O. Knupp, as and for her Last Will and Testament,*fn3 in the presence of us, who at her request and in the presence of her the said Testatrix, and in the presence of each other, have hereunto subscribed our names as witnesses thereto.
Approximately a year after her death, an envelope was found which contained the aforesaid written instrument. On the outside of the envelope appeared the following:
Appellant contends this is a valid holographic will. Montana O. Knupp's name appears only in the first line and in the third line of the nine-line attestation clause -- not at the end of the will and not even at the end of the attestation clause. Mrs. Goal and Dorothy
C. Allen, the subscribing witnesses, signed their names at the end of the attestation clause which recited that the testatrix, Montana O. Knupp, had signed and sealed the will in their presence and in the presence of each other. However, neither of these two witnesses actually saw the decedent sign her name in the attestation clause,*fn4 and neither of them was present when the other signed her name at the end of the attestation clause.
On November 17, 1965, the Register of Wills refused to probate the aforesaid writing, and on March 6, 1967 the appeal of Helen Nichols was dismissed and the Register's decree was affirmed by the Orphans' Court.
The first and most important question in this kind of a case -- even before the question of testator's alleged intent -- is, Has the alleged testator complied with or failed to comply with those provisions and requirements which the Wills Act says are necessary to constitute a paper which is testamentary in character, a valid will?
Whatever else may be uncertain, it is clear as crystal that the decedent did not sign this paper at the end thereof or even at the end of the attestation clause!
What was written by Miss Knupp on the envelope, even if its meaning were clear and unambiguous, (1) was not a signature at the end of her will in compliance with § 2 of the Wills Act; (2) nor was her statement to each of the so-called subscribing witnesses that the paper to which they signed their name was her will, sufficient to make it a valid will, even if there was no doubt of her testamentary intent; (3) nor was the writing, although testamentary in character and in the
handwriting of the decedent, signed at the end thereof*fn5 as required by § 2 of the Wills Act. Churchill's Estate, 260 Pa. 94, 103, 103 Atl. 533; Glace Will, 413 Pa. 91, 196 A.2d 297.*fn6 See also, Brown Will, 419 Pa. 418, 214 A.2d 229; Seiter's Estate, 265 Pa. 202, 108 Atl. 614; Kretz Estate, 410 Pa. 590, 189 A.2d 239; Brown Estate, 347 Pa. 244, 246, 32 A.2d 22; Griffith Will, 358 Pa. 474, 483, 57 A.2d 893; Bridge's ...