Appeal from decree of Court of Common Pleas, Orphans' Court Division, of Allegheny County, No. 4752 of 1971, in re estate of Mihaly Kasula, deceased.
James Francis Lawler, with him Cyril D. Brain, Isidor Ostroff, and Ostroff & Lawler, for appellants.
Thomas H. Welsh, with him Metz, Cook, Hanna & Kelly, for appellee.
Jones, C. J., Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Roberts. Dissenting Opinion by Mr. Justice Pomeroy. Mr. Justice Nix and Mr. Justice Manderino join in this dissenting opinion.
In 1972, appellants petitioned the Orphans' Court Division of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny
County to set aside a 1969 decree of distribution. The court refused the requested relief and dismissed the petition. We affirm.
On June 25, 1949, decedent, Mihaly Kasula, then a resident of the Soviet Union, died intestate. For a number of years decedent had resided in Allegheny County and had been employed by the United States Steel Corporation. His estate's only asset was $2,949.80 in the corporation's pension fund. Letters of administration were granted to decedent's grandson, a resident of Allegheny County, on October 30, 1961.
On September 6, 1963, the orphans' court entered a decree which, inter alia, awarded to the Commonwealth, as custodian, the sum of $1,524.53, representing intestate shares of a purported son and daughter of decedent said to be living in the Soviet Union.*fn1 These
shares were to be held by the Commonwealth without escheat subject to the provisions of the Act of July 28, 1953, P.L. 674.*fn2 Subsequently, on August 12, 1969, upon petition of the administrator, a final decree of distribution was entered. That decree directed the Commonwealth to repay to the estate the sums held, and directed the administrator to distribute that amount to known intestate heirs, three grandchildren of decedent living in the United States. Pursuant to that decree, the balance of the estate was distributed.
Almost three years thereafter, on June 19, 1972, a petition to set aside the 1969 decree of distribution was filed by the substitute attorney in fact for the alien claimants.*fn3 That petition was dismissed. Appellants' exceptions were then argued before the court en banc and dismissed. This appeal ensued.
The critical question presented is whether appellants offered sufficient proof to establish their claim as heirs of Mihaly Kasula. The orphans' court as factfinder and the court en banc determined that they did not. We conclude that this determination is supported by the evidence, and therefore affirm.
Manifestly, a court may not decree distribution to persons whose identity as proper beneficiaries of a decedent's estate has not been established. In cases such as this, involving intestacy, two facts must be proved.
A claimant must demonstrate not only his "identity as a qualified statutory heir but also that such an heir in fact existed." Demczuk Estate, 444 ...