Abraham Fishkin, Pittsburgh, for appellants.
Michael Hahalyak, Daniel T. Zamos, Pittsburgh, for appellee.
Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Jones, C. J., did not participate in the consideration or decision of this case. Pomeroy, J., concurs in the result. Manderino, J., dissents.
Melrose B. Thomas died November 22, 1972, leaving a purported will dated November 20, 1972. The will was admitted to probate in Allegheny County on December 5, 1972. An appeal from the Register of Wills' order admitting the will to probate was filed by Ora Gene Boor, decedent's brother,*fn1 in the Court of Common Pleas. Following
an evidentiary hearing before a judge presiding in the Orphans' Court Division, an adjudication was entered reversing the order of probate and directing that the purported will be stricken from the record because the court found it had been procured through undue influence. Exceptions were filed by Alice B. Dobson, executrix, and Ruby La Nace Hurst, residual beneficiary under the will. After oral argument before a court en banc, an order was entered dismissing the exceptions. Both Dobson and Hurst filed this appeal.*fn2
Thomas was fifty-nine years old at the time of her death. Other than the appellee Boor, she left no surviving relatives.
Thomas resided alone in an apartment in Ingram, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. She was employed as a physical education teacher at Sto-Rox High School. On November 3, 1972, she became ill and was hospitalized.
Hurst, a former resident of Pittsburgh, now resides in Wheaton, Illinois, and is licensed to practice law in that state. She is the sole beneficiary (except for minor legacies totaling two thousand dollars) under the contested will disposing of an estate totaling ninety-four thousand dollars. Thomas and Hurst were close friends for many years prior to 1970, but in 1970 a coolness in the relationship occurred. This estrangement continued, and as a result Thomas and Hurst did not see each other from December 1970 until November 17, 1972.
In 1964 Thomas had executed a will, prepared by Dobson,*fn3 leaving her entire estate to Hurst and, in the event of Hurst's death, to Hurst's husband. In 1968 an identical will, ...