Appeal from decree of Court of Common Pleas, Orphans' Court Division, of Allegheny County, No. 5345 of 1967, in re estate of Helen McGreevy, also known as Helen May McGreevy, deceased.
Allen S. Gordon, for appellant.
Frederick N. Frank, Assistant Attorney General, with him Richard L. Kelly, Assistant Attorney General, and J. Shane Creamer, Attorney General, for Commonwealth, appellee.
Jones, Eagen, O'Brien and Pomeroy, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Jones. Mr. Justice Eagen concurs in the result. Mr. Chief Justice Bell, Mr. Justice Roberts and Mr. Justice Barbieri took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
Helen McGreevy (decedent), an Allegheny County resident, died intestate on August 17, 1967, and letters of administration in her estate were issued to Jane E. Byrnes (appellant), decedent's sister and sole heir at law.
Decedent for some years had been mentally incompetent and appellant had been acting as guardian of her estate. For many years decedent had been entitled to monthly disability retirement annuity benefits paid by the United States Civil Service Commission under the provisions of an Act of Congress providing for retirement of civil service employees.*fn1 These retirement annuity benefits due and owing to decedent during her lifetime had been paid to appellant as decedent's guardian.
Appellant, as personal representative of decedent's estate, filed an account in the Orphans' Court of Allegheny County, which showed a balance of $6,655.92. By stipulation between the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and appellant, the appellant was permitted to pay decedent's funeral bill and the costs of a marker, leaving a balance of $5,395.92 in the account for distribution.
For over twenty-nine years the decedent had been a patient in the Mayview State Hospital and her care and maintenance at such institution was paid by the Commonwealth. At the audit of the account, the Commonwealth presented a claim in the amount of $28,413.56 for such past care and maintenance of decedent. Appellant resisted payment of the Commonwealth's claim in reliance on section 8346(a) of the federal statute, supra, which states: "The money mentioned by this subchapter is not assignable, either in law or equity,
or subject to execution, levy, attachment, garnishment, or other legal process." The auditing judge disallowed the Commonwealth's claim and awarded the balance of the estate to appellant as the sole heir and next of kin of decedent. Exceptions were filed by the Commonwealth and the court en banc unanimously sustained the Commonwealth's exceptions, allowed the claim of the Commonwealth and directed payment of the account balance ($5,395.92) to the Commonwealth. From that decree the instant appeal was taken.
The sole question at issue is: are monies derived by a decedent's estate from monthly disability retirement annuity benefits paid, during decedent's lifetime, to her guardian by the United States Civil Service Commission exempt from the Commonwealth's claim for the cost of decedent's care and maintenance at a state institution?
The question as posed is one of first impression in the Commonwealth although there is case law interpreting somewhat similar ...