Appeal from the ORDER July 24, 1996, in the Court of Common Pleas of ALLEGHENY County, ORPHANS, No. 8366 of 1993. Before SCHWARTZ & ZAVARELLA, JJ.
Before: McEWEN, P.j.; Kelly and Olszewski, JJ. Opinion BY Olszewski, J.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Olszewski
OPINION BY OLSZEWSKI, J.:
In June of 1989, Mary Fonos, aged 88, married Michael Fonos, aged 81. Approximately three and one-half years there-after, Mary died intestate and, after being granted Letters of Administration from the Allegheny County Register of Wills, Michael was named administrator of her estate. Just weeks later, however, on Christmas day, 1993, Michael died as well. In his will, Michael bequeathed his two children from his previous marriage, Raymond and Doloras, equal shares of his estate.
Raymond then petitioned for, and was granted, Letters of Administration for his father's estate and Letters of Administration D.B.N.C.T.A. for the estate of Mary Fonos. *fn1 One week later, Louise Porac, a niece of Mary Fonos, filed a petition by which she and numerous other blood relatives of Mary Fonos sought to revoke the Letters of Administration D.B.N.C.T.A. In the petition, the relatives challenged the right of Mary's then-surviving spouse, the late Michael Fonos, to inherit from his deceased spouse.
In support of her assertion that Michael was not entitled to inherit from his wife, appellants claimed that Michael had willfully neglected or refused to support his wife from the inception of their marriage and, as a result, had forfeited his inheritance rights. Administrative Judge Kelly then issued a citation to show cause why the Letters should not be revoked. Following two days of testimony, at which numerous friends and relatives of Mary Fonos testified, the Honorable Nathan Schwartz denied appellants' petition for revocation. After being considered by an en banc panel of the Allegheny County Orphan's Court, the Honorable Judges Schwartz and Zavarella denied appellants' post-trial motions. This timely appeal follows.
Instantly, appellants propound several claims which allege that the trial court erred and abused its discretion in denying their petition. As all of these claims touch upon the propriety of spousal forfeiture in the present case, however, we will outline our standard of review at the outset. *fn2
Our law does not favor forfeitures; statutes permitting such must, therefore, be strictly construed. See, e.g., In Re Estate of Fisher, 442 Pa. 421, , 276 A.2d 516, 518-19 (1971); Commonwealth v. One 1988 Ford Coupe, 393 Pa. Super. 320, 574 A.2d 631, 636 (1990). Thus, the petitioner in a forfeiture action bears the burden of proof and must demonstrate that the heirs taking by will or through statute are legally undeserving. See, e.g., In Re Estate of Teaschenko, 393 Pa. Super. 355, , 574 A.2d 649, 651 (1990).
Appellants' primary claim is that, pursuant to the inheritance forfeiture provision embodied in 20 Pa.C.S.A. § 2106, Michael Fonos surrendered his right to inherit from his wife, Mary. Specifically, appellants contend that Michael willfully and intentionally refused to support Mary from the inception of their marriage to Mary's ultimate day of death.
Because our standard of review mandates strict construction of the statute in question, we will reproduce the applicable section herein:
(a) Spouse's share. -- A spouse, who for one year or upwards previous to the death of the other spouse, has willfully neglected or refused to perform the duty to support the other spouse, or for one year or upwards has willfully and maliciously deserted the other spouse, shall have no right or ...