Appeal from Order of Superior Court dated March 22, 1985, No. 73 Harrisburg 1984, reversing and remanding Order of Court of Common Pleas of Adams County, Orphans' Court Division, dated December 1, 1983, No. 26 May Term 1973.
This is an appeal from an order of the Superior Court which affirmed in part and reversed in part an order of the
Court of Common Pleas of Adams County. The Court of Common Pleas had dismissed Appellee's exceptions to an auditor's report and confirmed the report, holding that Appellee was not entitled to further distribution from the estate because she had assigned her distributive share to Appellant.
Appellant Marian Bryan is the mother of Appellee Marian Flynn Gulden. On September 22, 1972, Corvan S. Bryan died intestate, leaving as his heirs his wife and daughter. Letters of administration were issued to the mother on September 29, 1972, and little occurred with respect to distribution of the estate until the spring of 1979.
At that time, the daughter petitioned the Orphans' Court of Adams County to direct her mother to file an accounting of the estate. On January 20, 1982, the first and final accounting were filed together with a proposed schedule of final distributions. The daughter filed exceptions to the accounting and an auditor was appointed. The Auditor held an evidentiary hearing, and on April 13, 1983, issued his report, recommending that the remaining assets of the estate be distributed in whole to the mother. Auditor's Report, R. 5a. The daughter renewed her exceptions which were dismissed by the Orphans' Court. A final decree of distribution was entered by that court, ordering that the remainder of the estate be distributed as recommended by the Auditor's report.
On appeal to the Superior Court, Appellee disputed the court's treatment of three financial transactions. Two involved demand notes executed by the daughter, her husband, and the mother, the proceeds of which were used as a down-payment on a bar by the daughter and her husband. One of these notes was to the First National Bank & Trust Company of Waynesboro for $11,000. The mother, as administratrix of her husband's estate, consented to having this note secured by certain shares of stock in a water company that were part of the estate. The other note was to the Adams County National Bank for $15,000, and was secured by the funds in the mother's personal savings
account.*fn1 Eventually, both banks demanded payment of the notes. Payment for the first note was made in the amount of $11,208.12 from proceeds received from the sale of the water stock, and payment on the other note in the amount of $15,028.12 from the mother's savings. The other transaction questioned in the appeal was the receipt of $2,500 by the daughter from the mother. This transfer was made so that the daughter could purchase new clothes, since hers had apparently been taken during a domestic dispute.
When the mother filed the accounting of the estate she listed the payments of both notes and the $2,500 as distributions set off from the distribution which the daughter was entitled to receive from the estate. The Auditor and Orphans' Court accepted the mother's characterization of the payments as an assignment to her of the daughter's share of the estate. The Superior Court, however, found that the only transaction which could be characterized as an advance was the $11,000 note secured by the estate's water company stock, and that the other transactions were personal claims of the mother which could not properly be set off against the daughter's share of the estate. Thus, the Superior Court reversed that part of the lower court's order confirming the set off of the $15,028.12 and $2,500 against the daughter's share of the estate and remanded the case for further proceedings. 340 Pa. Super. 455, 490 A.2d 868.
The only substantive issue raised is whether the Superior Court exceeded its appropriate standard of review. We find that it has, and therefore now reverse.
The standard of review which appellate courts should apply in reviewing challenges to an auditor's findings has been clearly established by this Court. "[F]indings of fact of an auditor, confirmed or approved by the court below, will not be disturbed on appeal except for clear error or unless unsupported by the ...