Appeal from decree of Court of Common Pleas, Orphans' Court Division, of Bucks County, at No. 40101, in re Estate of Angelia Stasis a/k/a Angelina Stasis, a/k/a Angela Stasis.
Rodney D. Henry, for appellant.
Richard J. Molish, with him Weiss, Nelson & Moskowitz, for appellees.
Jones, C. J., Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Chief Justice Jones.
This appeal presents a very narrow issue: whether the signature of Angelia Stasis found on a testamentary
document purporting to be her will satisfies Section 2502 of the Probate Estates and Fiduciaries Code,*fn1 which requires that every will admitted to probate "be signed by the testator at the end thereof."
Angelia Stasis died on October 28, 1966. On that day a search for a will was made and a sealed envelope was found in her safe deposit box which bore the words "Ciemano will" (Lithuanian for "This is my will") written in the decedent's hand. A single sheet of lined paper containing the testamentary writing in question was inside the envelope. In due course the document, which was also written in Lithuanian in the decedent's handwriting, was translated and offered for probate. The Bucks County Register of Wills refused to probate the document and the proponents of the will appealed to the Orphans' Court. The Orphans' Court affirmed the decision of the Register of Wills and dismissed exceptions to that ruling filed by the proponents; this appeal followed. We reverse the decree of the Orphans' Court.
There can be no question that the decedent intended the document which the Register of Wills refused to probate to serve as her will. The single sheet of paper which was found in the envelope begins: "Angelia Stasis this is my will and to whom I leave my money to my relatives." The document continues with an enumeration of the decedent's assets with instructions for their distribution to named relatives and friends upon the death of the testatrix. These instructions for the distribution of the testatrix's assets take up the entire front side of the document; there is writing on every line and there are no margins. The testamentary writing continues on the reverse side of the paper where there is a charitable bequest, a provision for funeral
expenses, burial instructions, the appointment of executors and the disinheritance of several named relatives. On the last line of the reverse side of the page is the statement: "Be so good and fulfill my wishes." There is no signature at the bottom of the reverse side of the page. However, there is a signature on the page -- it is upside down in the margin at the top of the page. In addition to the signature of the decedent, her address and the statement "This was written 1963 October 11 day" also appear upside down in the margin at the top of the reverse side of the sheet. The only question presented for our consideration is whether, under the circumstances presented in this will, the signature so placed qualifies as a signature "at the end thereof" as required by the Probate Estates and Fiduciaries Code.
The proponents of the will, appellants in this action, argue that while the signature on this document is admittedly not placed at the physical end of the writing, it is placed at the sequential end. The proponents contend that the sequence is both logical and obvious: after writing "Be so good and fulfill my wishes" on the last line of the reverse side of the sheet, the testatrix had no room for her signature; she then rotated the sheet 180 degrees and signed the document ...