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In Re: Estate of John J.

September 7, 2012

IN RE: ESTATE OF JOHN J. STRAHSMEIER, DECEASED APPEAL OF: CO-EXECUTRICES, ROSE M. REGAN AND LOIS A. PHILLIPS


Appeal from the Order Entered July 25, 2011 In the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Orphans' Court Division at No(s): No. 02-08-6114

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ott, J.

J-A09043-12

BEFORE: DONOHUE, LAZARUS and OTT, JJ.

OPINION BY OTT, J.:

Rose M. Regan and Lois A. Phillips, two of the three co-executors of the Estate of John J. Strahsmeier ("Estate") appeal from the order of court entered on July 25, 2011 in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Orphans' Court Division, which denied their motions for reconsideration and stay and dismissed their exceptions to the July 1, 2011 order. After careful consideration of the submissions by the parties, official record, and relevant law, we affirm.*fn1

We summarize the long and tortuous factual and procedural history of this matter as follows:

Decedent died on September 13, 2008, survived by his three children, John T. Strahsmeier, Regan and Phillips (collectively "children").*fn2 Decedent executed his Will on June 6, 2003. On February 13, 2006, Decedent established a money market checking account*fn3 at First National Bank of Pennsylvania ("First National"). Decedent was the sole owner of this account. On October 17, 2006, Decedent revised ownership, listing Regan as "ITF" (hereinafter "ITF Account").*fn4 At various times, other accounts owned by Decedent were opened and revised at First National.*fn5

In May 2007, Decedent prepared binders (hereinafter "the binder") containing detailed descriptions and information as to his funeral, burial, assets, debts, accounts, and estate management.*fn6 The binders were given to Regan, Phillips, Strahsmeier, and C. Donald Gates, Jr., Esquire.*fn7 All binders were updated regularly by Decedent.

The binder directs that upon his death, Strahsmeier, Regan, and Phillips were to take the monies from the accounts they shared with Decedent and deposit them into an estate account. The Estate Account would, after payment of debts, be divided equally among the children.*fn8 The ITF Account containing the majority of the assets of the Estate was to become the Estate Account.

Following Decedent's death, Regan and Phillips sought intestate probate averring they did not know if a valid Will was in existence.*fn9 Letters of administration were issued to Regan and Phillips as co-administrators of the Estate on September 24, 2008. On October 3, 2008 Regan and Phillips, as co-administrators, filed a petition to show cause why Strahsmeier and his wife should not be directed to deliver Decedent's assets to the court.*fn10

On October 6, 2008, Strahsmeier presented to the court a petition to enter a photocopy of the Decedent's June 6, 2003 Will. Regan and Phillips immediately filed a caveat with the Register of Wills.

On October 16, 2008, Treasury Bill *H20 matured and $40,000 was electronically deposited into the ITF Account. Shortly thereafter, Regan withdrew the contents of that account, totaling $140,200.26.

When on January 14, 2009, Strahsmeier presented for filing the original June 6, 2003 Will and the March 20, 2007 Codicil,*fn11 Regan and

Phillips withdrew the caveat. Pursuant to the June 6, 2003 Will,

Strahsmeier, Phillips, and Regan were appointed co-executors of the Estate. On June 23, 2009, Philips filed an Inheritance Tax Form on behalf of the Estate. The tax form listed the ITF Account ($108,477.75) and Treasury Bill *H20 ($40,000) as assets of the Estate.

On May 12, 2010, the orphans' court directed Regan and Phillips*fn12 to file an Account for the Estate. Strahsmeier was required to cooperate fully in providing information they might need. Regan and Phillips filed, on June 15, 2010, a First and Final Account and Inventory. Strahsmeier filed objections as well as supplemental objections to both the Account and Inventory on July 27, 2010. Among the objections to the Inventory were those stating that the ITF Account ($108,477.75) and Treasury Bill *H20 ($40,000) were not listed as assets of the Estate. A prolonged and contentious period of discovery followed.

On December 3, 2010, Regan and Phillips filed an amended Inventory. An amended Account was filed on December 20, 2010. After further procedural posturing and filings, a hearing was finally held on May 12, 2011. The Honorable Lawrence J. O'Toole filed his memorandum opinion and order on July 1, 2011. Regan and Phillips filed timely exceptions to the order.*fn13

On July 25, 2011, Judge O'Toole issued his second memorandum opinion and order, which dismissed the exceptions. This timely appeal followed on August 9, 2011.

On appeal, Regan and Phillips contend the orphans' court erred as a matter of law in: 1) concluding Strahsmeier produced clear and convincing evidence to overcome the presumption the bank account was a Totten trust;*fn14 2) concluding the account was a convenience account rather than a Totten trust; and 3) concluding the Treasury Bill (*H20) which matured on October 16, 2008, in the principal amount of $40,000, was the property of the Estate and not Regan.

Our standard of review of an orphans' court's decision is deferential. When reviewing a decree entered by the Orphans' Court, this Court must determine whether the record is free from legal error and the court's factual findings are supported by the evidence. Because the Orphans' Court sits as the fact-finder, it determines the credibility of the witnesses and, on ...


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