Appeal from decree of Court of Common Pleas, Orphans' Court Division, of Bucks County, No. 32750 of 1970, in re estate of John Demczuk.
James Francis Lawler, with him Ostroff & Lawler, for appellant.
Eugene J. Anastasio, Deputy Attorney General, with him J. Shane Creamer, Attorney General, for Commonwealth, appellee.
Bell, C. J., Jones, Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy and Barbieri, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Roberts.
Appellant, a resident of the Soviet Union, is here challenging the determination of the Orphans' Court of Bucks County that he has failed to establish sufficiently his identity as the son and residuary legatee under the will of John Demczuk,*fn1 who died on October 26, 1947, a resident of Bucks County. We hold appellant has on this record adequately proven his identity and is therefore entitled to take under his father's will.
After providing for his funeral expenses, the deceased devised the remainder of his estate to his son as follows: "All the rest, residue, and remainder of my estate of every kind and nature whatsoever I order and direct shall be converted into cash by my Executor hereinafter named and the net proceeds therefrom I do give, devise and bequeath to my son, Hrihori Demianchuk, a resident of S. Chotin, P. O. Pluznoe, Iziaslaloskoho Raiona, Winickoy Oblasei Shepetowskoho, Okruga,
Russia. Should my said son predecease me, then I give and bequeath the net proceeds from my residuary estate to my grandson and son of my said son, Alexsander Demianchuk. Should both my son Hrihori Demianchuk and my grandson, Alexsander Demianchuk pre-decease me, then I give, devise and bequeath the said proceeds from my said residuary estate to Pelahia Demianchuk, wife of Hrihori Demianchuk."
The Farmers National Bank of Bucks County was named as executor in the will. The Bank filed an account on March 19, 1954, showing a balance of $7,171.19 available for distribution, but later petitioned for the appointment of an auditor to determine to whom the fund should be distributed and whether the terms of the so-called "Iron Curtain Act", Act of July 28, 1953, P. L. 674, 20 P.S. § 1155 et seq. (Supp. 1971) should be invoked. The Act provides, in essence, that whenever it appears to a court that if distribution were made, a beneficiary would not have the actual benefit, use, enjoyment or control of the money, the court can direct that the funds be delivered to the State Treasury, which becomes their custodian until the beneficiary demonstrates that he can have actual benefit or use.
Hearings were held before an auditor, who eventually filed a report authorizing the payment of the funds in question to the State Treasury. Exceptions were taken by a Philadelphia attorney, who presented a power of attorney purportedly signed by Grigory Ivanovitch Demianchuk, designating a New York City law firm to represent his interests. In essence, the exceptions urged that the funds should have been awarded to the deceased's son through his attorney-in-fact. The orphans' court dismissed the exceptions on the grounds that the claimant had not adequately established his identity and also because he would not have the actual benefit of his distributive share. See Demczuk Page 215} Estate, 8 Pa. D. & C. 2d 462 (Bucks County Pa. O.C. 1956).
Considerable doubt concerning the constitutionality of the Iron Curtain Act was raised by the decision of the United States Supreme Court in Zschernig v. Miller, 389 U.S. 429, 88 S. Ct. 664 (1968). Subsequently, on August 21, 1969, by his attorney claimant petitioned the orphans' court to order the Commonwealth to release the funds. Hearings were held during the Fall of 1969. The court, in an opinion dated June 17, 1970, denied the petition, stating that while the Iron Curtain Act was unconstitutional, claimant had still not supplied legally sufficient proof of his identity. The funds were therefore to remain on deposit in the State Treasury under the ...