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ESTATE NATHANIEL F. COOPER (03/20/86)

filed: March 20, 1986.

ESTATE OF NATHANIEL F. COOPER, DECEASED. APPEAL OF NEIL S. COOPER, E. GERALD COOPER


APPEAL FROM THE DECREE MARCH 18, 1985 IN THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS OF PHILADELPHIA COUNTY, ORPHANS NO. 3034 OF 1976

COUNSEL

Gerald F. Ragland, Jr., Philadelphia, for appellants.

Cirillo, Montemuro and Popovich, JJ. Popovich, J., dissents.

Author: Cirillo

[ 351 Pa. Super. Page 483]

This is an appeal from an en banc decree of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County. At issue is a will disposing of the estate of Nathaniel F. Cooper, who during his lifetime amassed several million dollars.

Contestant, testator's son from his first marriage, appealed from the probate of the will at issue, claiming that his stepmother, proponent of the will, exerted undue influence upon testator, thus forcing him to leave virtually everything to her to the exclusion of contestant. After hearings on the matter, the Honorable Kendall Shoyer concluded the will was indeed the product of undue influence. Accordingly, the will was declared invalid, set aside, and testator's last previous will was ordered probated. Upon exceptions by proponent, the matter was reviewed by the court en banc, which rejected Judge Shoyer's findings and ordered contestant's appeal from probate dismissed. The contested will was once again in effect. This appeal by contestant followed.*fn1

[ 351 Pa. Super. Page 484]

Judge Shoyer, in concluding that the contested will was the result of undue influence, outlined in considerable detail the testimony and circumstances upon which his decision was based. In condensed form, those findings are as follows.

Testator Nathaniel Cooper was a man of boundless energy and unsurpassed business acumen. Through a series of shrewd investments, he made himself a millionare in Horatio Alger fashion. He owned posh homes in Philadelphia, Manhattan, and Long Island, and was attended to by a chauffer and a battery of butlers and maids.

In 1958, testator suffered a massive stroke. His speech became slurred, and his walk was reduced to a shuffle. His weight dropped to the point of giving him a "skeleton" appearance. At times, others would have to cut his food for him. With utter indifference, he would sometimes urinate wherever he stood. He became hypochondriacal, carrying with him a suitcase filled with various medications. With regularity, he checked himself into a New York hospital for brief periods. He would only make important business decisions in the morning, because by afternoon he was fatigued.

Partially as a result of the many drugs he ingested, testator became an anxious, depressed man. He was a fearful shell of his former self. Through his depression, his wife Roslyn remained his one "shining star". She received frequent and substantial largess from testator; in fact, the Long Island home was in her name outright. She meant everything to testator, and the thought of losing her made him utterly despondent.

Nonetheless, at those times when he was making business decisions, he retained a remarkable mental acuity and firmness of conviction, as testified to by his stock broker and the scrivener of the contested will. He remained a voracious reader of as many business and investment publications as he came across. His secretary testified that no business decision of any ...


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