Appeal from Decree May 13, 1988, in the Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County, Civil, No. 1978-499.
Leon A. Mankowski, Philadelphia, for appellant.
Richard C. Buss, Whitehall, for appellee.
Brosky, McEwen and Olszewski, JJ.
[ 385 Pa. Super. Page 27]
This is an appeal from the trial court's order affirming the probate of a copy of an unsigned, undated, and unwitnessed writing as the will of Mary Lou Keiser.
In 1971, a Philadelphia attorney prepared a will for Mrs. Keiser. Mrs. Keiser then received and signed the original will. Thereafter, her signature was witnessed by her neighbors, George and Elizabeth Ruppert.
For the next six years, Mrs. Keiser kept the original will in a safe in her home in Philadelphia. In December of 1977, however, Mrs. Keiser moved from Philadelphia to Emmaus, Pennsylvania, where she died on January 21, 1978. Before her move to Emmaus, Mrs. Keiser informed her neighbor, Mrs. Ruppert, that she had placed the will in a tan metal box, which she would use to transport important papers to Emmaus. Following her death, this same box was removed from Mrs. Keiser's apartment by her son, appellant Benjamin Tercha. The son testified that he found various bank books, insurance policies, and other documents in the box but that the box did not contain his mother's will. The original will of Mrs. Keiser has never been located; therefore, an unsigned copy of the will prepared in 1971 was offered for probate. This writing was admitted to probate as the Last Will and Testament of Mrs. Keiser by the Register of Wills of Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, in October of 1978. The disputed document gave one-half of the estate to George and Elizabeth Ruppert and one-half to Benjamin Tercha.
The record also indicates that sometime after 1974, Mrs. Keiser indicated to Mrs. Ruppert that she was considering removing her son, Mr. Tercha, from her will. Additionally, there was testimony that shortly before Mrs. Keiser's death, she had a conversation with a friend which indicated
[ 385 Pa. Super. Page 28]
that her will had as its beneficiaries the Rupperts and Mrs. Keiser's grandchildren. This conversation, however, made no mention of Mr. Tercha's status as a beneficiary. Also, Mrs. Keiser's sister testified that she received a letter from Mrs. Keiser which demonstrated her intent to visit an attorney on January 19, 1978. The letter also stated that the Rupperts were the sole beneficiaries of the will.
Mr. Tercha filed exceptions to the orphan's court order which served to dismiss his appeal from the decree of the Register of Wills admitting to probate the disputed writing. Mr. Tercha is Mrs. Keiser's only intestate heir; and if successful in proving that the writing admitted to probate is not the last will and testament of Mrs. Keiser, Mr. Tercha will take the entire estate by intestacy.
On appeal, Tercha frames the issue for our review in the following terms: "Did not the Learned Trial Judge err in confirming the probate of an unsigned, unwitnessed and undated copy of a will as the Last Will and Testament of the decedent?" In sum, Tercha contends that the document admitted to probate ...