Appeal from decree of Court of Common Pleas, Orphans' Court Division, of Allegheny County, No. 302 of 1968, in re Estate of Anton Vajentic.
John A. Metz, Jr., with him Samuel V. Albo, and Metz, Cook, Hanna & Kelly, for appellants.
Louis Z. Marohnic, for appellees.
Jones, C. J., Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Eagen. Mr. Justice Manderino dissents.
Anton Vajentic [decedent], a resident of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, died January 8, 1968. He was a widower, without children, and his nearest blood relatives were a niece, Jelica Santulin, and a nephew, Anton Vajentic, a resident of Yugoslavia. By his will dated December 7, 1967, he bequeathed the sum of $1000 each to a grand niece and a grand nephew of his deceased wife, and $5000 each to Maria and Rita Santulin, minor children of his niece, Jelica, and her husband, Joseph. He devised his residence property at 202 Chester Avenue, Pittsburgh, to his niece, Jelica, for life and upon her death to her daughters, Maria and Rita. The residue of the estate [approximately $29,000 in personalty] was left to his nephew, Anton.
Decedent's will was probated and letters testamentary issued on January 18, 1968. On November 12, 1968, Jelica Santulin presented a petition to the court setting forth the terms of decedent's will in regard to the Chester Avenue property and asking permission to sell the property for $12,000. The petition stated the petitioner and her family were induced to come to Pittsburgh from Italy, but now found it more advantageous to live in New York City. The petition was granted and the proceeds of the sale were directed to be held in trust for petitioner for life and to be paid to her children upon her death.
On February 28, 1969, the executor filed a first and final account. On March 24, 1969, Jelica Santulin and her husband, Joseph [appellants], filed a claim against the estate for $12,000. The basis of the claim was not stated. On August 6, 1969, appellants filed a formal statement of their claim in which it was alleged, in pertinent part, that in September and October 1966, decedent visited appellants who were then living in Astoria, New York, and promised if they would come to Pittsburgh and live with him "he would turn over his property [estate] to them"; that relying on decedent's promise, they moved to Pittsburgh on December 6, 1966, and lived with him until his death; and that contrary to his promise decedent made the will, before outlined. In this statement, damages in the amount of $12,000 were requested. On June 9, 1970, an amended statement of claim was filed containing the same averments, but asking that appellants be awarded the entire estate of decedent. An evidentiary hearing ensued before the Honorable Malcolm Hay, the auditing judge, who later entered an adjudication and decree nisi, sustaining the claim and awarding decedent's entire estate to appellants.
The nephew, Anton Vajentic, and other beneficiaries under the will, filed exceptions to the above decree, and,
after argument before a court en banc consisting of President Judge Boyle and Judges Rauhauser and McKenna [Judge Hay died in the meantime], these exceptions were sustained, and a new decree of distribution was entered awarding the estate in accordance with the terms of decedent's will. This appeal followed.
The evidence offered by appellants at the hearing before the auditing judge consisted of letters written by decedent to appellants; testimony of three witnesses of declarations made by decedent in the absence of appellants; and the testimony of one witness in the form of answers to interrogatories of declarations made by decedent on six or seven ...