APPEAL FROM THE ORDER ENTERED SEPTEMBER 24, 1987 IN THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS OF LEHIGH COUNTY, CIVIL NO. 1982-871
Alfred S. Pierce, Nazareth, for appellant.
Frederick, J. Lanshe, Allentown, for appellee.
Cirillo, President Judge, and Olszewski and Watkins, JJ.
[ 374 Pa. Super. Page 65]
This is an appeal from the dismissal of appellant Julia Matson's exceptions to an accounting rendered to the Orphan's Court Division of the Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County with respect to the estate of her deceased husband, William Matson. We reverse.
In reviewing findings of the Orphan's Court, we must accept as true all evidence in the record supporting its
[ 374 Pa. Super. Page 66]
findings and all reasonable inferences therefrom. Adoption of S.H., 476 Pa. 608, 383 A.2d 529 (1978). We will uphold its decision so long as it is supported by competent evidence and no abuse of discretion or error of law was committed. Id. At issue in the case at bar were two items of personal property: the ownership of a building and the right to a lease for the Forest Camp Site on which it stood.
We state at the outset that the decision in this case did not involve one of construction of a testamentary provision in order to give effect to the intention of the decedent. Rather, as an auditing court, it was presented with the question of the propriety of inclusion of certain assets in the estate. This determination required the trial court to decide questions of law regarding the manner in which the decedent held the property at issue and the legal effectiveness of an alleged inter vivos transfer.
In her exceptions to the accounting, Mrs. Matson sought to have the entire interest in the campsite lease, issued by the Bureau of Forestry of the Department of Environmental Resources (DER) of this Commonwealth pursuant to 71 P.S. § 510-6(4), included as an asset of her husband's estate. It was undisputed among the parties that William Matson's interest in the lease became an asset of his estate at his death. Mrs. Matson quarrels only with the extent of the interest in that asset adjudicated as includable in the estate by the trial court. That court found a completed inter vivos gift of a two-thirds interest in the lease to Matson's brother and nephew.
Mrs. Matson also sought to be declared the owner of the cabin located on the leased premises by right of survivorship. As the petitioner, she had the burden of establishing her title to any items of which she claimed ownership. In re Gumbe's Estate, 172 Pa. Super. 59, 92 A.2d 265 (1952). The auditing court found the building to be separate from the lease and owned solely by William Matson. As with the lease, it found a completed gift of a two-thirds interest in the cabin. It based its conclusions on the decedent's expressed desire to make the gifts, on what it found to be
[ 374 Pa. Super. Page 67]
compliance with DER's "procedures for effecting transfer of a partial interest in the lease and the cabin", and on Matson's delivery to his brother of "all of the documentation he possessed concerning ownership of the ...