Appeal from the Decree of the Court of Common Pleas of Northampton County, Orphans' Division at No. 1987-220.
Thomas F. Traud, Jr., Allentown, for appellants.
Raymond J. DeRaymond, Easton, for participating parties.
McEwen, Popovich and Melinson, JJ. Melinson, J., concurs in the result.
[ 388 Pa. Super. Page 14]
This case involves an appeal from the final decree of the Court of Common Pleas of Northampton County, Orphans' Court Division, admitting the signed copy of the last will executed by the decedent (Lucia A. Mammana) on November 4, 1968, to probate. We affirm in a case of first impression.
A review of the testimony proffered reveals that in October of 1967, Lucia A. Mammana, in the company of her two daughters (Carmella Borowski and Josephine Yeisley) and son (Frank Mammana), was transported to the legal offices of Coffin, Grifo and DeRaymond. There, the then Attorney Richard D. Grifo, now a member of the judiciary of the Court of Common Pleas of Northampton County, interviewed Mrs. Mammana with regard to the preparation of a will.
A will was written in 1967 for Mrs. Mammana. However, it was never executed. It was not until Grifo contacted Carmella Borowski that he wished to be paid for his services and resolve the status of her mother's intentions as to a will that Mrs. Mammana returned to Grifo's office in the company of the same three children and drafted a new will
[ 388 Pa. Super. Page 15]
(dated November 4, 1968) identical to the first (1967) document in that it left a farm of approximately 135 acres to Frank Mammana, but altered the residuary clause to read that the remaining estate was to be divided among her other six children instead of just to Josephine Yeisley and Carmella Borowski.
During both sessions with Mrs. Mammana, Grifo came away with the impression that the testatrix was "completely aware" of the nature of the conversations and she was cognizant of what she wanted and desired as to the disposition of her estate, as well as to the "objects of her bounty". The witness had "no doubt" in his mind that Mrs. Mammana "knew exactly what she wanted to do with her property, and did it."
Also, Grifo recollected that Mrs. Mammana wanted her son Frank to have the farm, but she did not want him to sell it because of her attachment to it. So, it was Mrs. Mammana's choice to put a time period within which he could not sell it -- five years after her death.
The 1968 will was signed by the decedent (on November 4th) and witnessed by Grifo and two of his office secretaries (Anita DiBona and Catherine Wilson). The original will was placed into the office safe.
Sometime in August of 1984, after Grifo was elevated to the bench, his former law partner George Coffin was attempting to determine which wills (both originals and copies thereof) in the office were either of deceased individuals or were no longer effective because of subsequent wills written for that person. Toward that end, the secretarial staff aided Coffin in preparing a list of wills, their date of execution and the scrivener. Once this had been accomplished, and in particular as to the case of Lucia Mammana's will, Judge Grifo was forwarded a "batch" of wills to examine and then was to advise Coffin which wills were no longer worth keeping. In compliance therewith, Judge Grifo returned the 1968 Mammana will to Coffin's office believing, erroneously, that it belonged to someone who had since died. This was noted on the list of wills prepared by
[ 388 Pa. Super. Page 16]
Coffin's legal secretary for Judge Grifo by the use of an asterisk next to Lucia Mammana's name indicating: "Deceased per RDG 8/23/84". This list was returned to Coffin's office along with the original will of Mrs. Mammana.
In Coffin's efforts to up-date the office records with regard to wills, he discarded or destroyed the original 1968 Mammana will. It was only with Mrs. Mammana's death on January 16, 1987, that a copy of the 1968 will, kept by the successor law firm to Coffin, ...