Appeal from the Order Entered on November 14, 2011 In the Court of Common Pleas of Westmoreland County Orphans' Court at No: 65-09-02133
Appeal from the Order Entered on January 3, 2012 In the Court of Common Pleas of Westmoreland County Orphans' Court at Nos: 65-09-02133, 65-09-0250
BEFORE: MUSMANNO, J., WECHT, J., and COLVILLE, J. [*]
Mark Bradley ("Appellant") appeals the Orphans' Court order entered on November 14, 2011 in the Court of Common Pleas of Westmoreland County denying Appellant's "Amended Claim" for an interest in Vincent V. Rodgers' estate. Appellant also appeals the January 3, 2012 order from the same court partitioning a property owned by Vincent V. Rodgers' and Elizabeth J. Rodgers' estates. We affirm.
Amended Claim Case
Through a Pennsylvania Limited Partnership known as the Rodgers First Family Limited Partnership, Vincent and Elizabeth Rodgers owned and operated two funeral homes, one located in Irwin and another located in Manor. Collectively, the two funeral homes were known as the "Rodgers Funeral Homes." In 1988, Appellant was hired to work part-time for the Rodgers Funeral Homes. In 1991, Appellant was promoted to a full-time employee, after attending and completing mortuary school. Appellant continued to work for the funeral homes at least until the filing of this appeal.
In 1997, Vincent and Elizabeth Rodgers created a series of trusts. Vincent Rodgers created the "Vincent V. Rodgers Family Irrevocable Trust" and the "Vincent V. Rodgers Trust." The latter was freely revocable; the former was not. While not freely revocable, the "Vincent V. Rodgers Family Irrevocable Trust" explicitly reserved a limited power of appointment, so that, during his lifetime, Vincent Rodgers was able to direct the distribution of the assets of the trust. That same year, Elizabeth Rodgers created the "Elizabeth J. Rodgers Family Irrevocable Trust." Each trust originally contained a provision providing that, upon the death of Vincent and/or Elizabeth, Appellant would receive 10% of the funeral business. The trusts further provided that Appellant's interest in the business would increase by 1% each year, commencing in 1997, and continuing until his interest reached a total of 25%. Additionally, Appellant's entire interest was conditioned upon his continued employment for the Rodgers Funeral homes. If Appellant terminated his employment, Appellant would forfeit his entire interest in the funeral homes. These provisions appeared in each of the three original trusts.
On February 4, 2005, Vincent Rodgers amended the "Vincent V. Rodgers Trust, " eliminating the bequest to Appellant. On February 11, 2005, Vincent Rodgers exercised the limited power of appointment in the "Vincent V. Rodgers Family Irrevocable Trust, " to eliminate the bequest to Appellant. Also in 2005, Elizabeth Rodgers amended the "Elizabeth J. Rodgers Family Irrevocable Trust." However, rather than eliminating Appellant's interest, Elizabeth Rodgers conveyed her entire 50% interest in the funeral home business to Appellant. Elizabeth Rodgers' amendment also eliminated the requirement that Appellant work continuously for the funeral homes as a condition to inheriting the 50% ownership in the business.
In 2009, Vincent and Elizabeth Rodgers both died. Pursuant to the trusts as amended, upon the deaths of Mr. and Mrs. Rodgers, Appellant inherited 50% of the Rodgers Funeral Homes.
On February 11, 2011, Appellant filed a "Claim" in the Orphans' Court division of the Westmoreland County Court of Common Pleas seeking the 25% interest in the funeral homes as contemplated in the original trusts, over and above the 50% he had acquired by virtue of Elizabeth Rodgers' bequest. On February 24, 2011, Appellant filed an "Amended Claim" seeking same.
On June 8 and 9, 2011, the trial court conducted a hearing on, among other issues, Appellant's "Amended Claim." During that hearing, Appellant sought to demonstrate that the provision in the original "Vincent V. Rodgers Family Irrevocable Trust" bequeathing a 25% interest in the funeral homes was binding. Thus, Appellant sought an additional 25% interest in the funeral home above the 50% that he received per the "Elizabeth J. Rodgers Family Irrevocable Trust." Appellant introduced a purported copy of the "Vincent V. Rodgers Family Irrevocable Trust" at the hearing. Appellant's submission conspicuously lacked the limited power of appointment that was contained in the original trust documents. Gregory V. Rodgers ("Appellee"), the executor of Vincent Rodgers' estate, introduced a copy of the trust bearing the limited power of appointment language.
The discrepancy in the two documents was not explained sufficiently to satisfy the trial court. The court found Appellant's copy to lack credibility, and deemed it an inaccurate copy of the trust documentation. See Trial Court Opinion ("T.C.O."), 11/14/2011, at 2-3. By order and opinion dated November 14, 2011, the trial court denied Appellant's "Amended Claim." On December 13, 2011, Appellant filed a notice of appeal. The trial court did not order Appellant to file a concise statement of errors complained of on appeal pursuant to Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b). However, for purposes of rationale and explanation, the trial court did issue a statement pursuant to Pa.R.A.P. 1925(a) directing this Court's attention to the trial court's November 14, 2011 order and opinion.
On March 28, 2011, Appellee, as executor of Vincent Rodgers' estate, filed a "Petition for Partition" in regard to the funeral home located in Manor, Pennsylvania. The property was owned at all times by Vincent and Elizabeth Rodgers, with each party owning a 50% share. Appellant, who is the executor of Elizabeth Rodgers' estate, also has an interest in this property as he has inherited Elizabeth Rodgers' 50% share of the property. Appellant also has lived at this property since 1991. The funeral home at this Manor location has not been conducting business since April 2009. Appellant and Appellee could not agree as to how the property should be disposed of now that Vincent and Elizabeth Rodgers are both deceased. Appellant was unwilling to either purchase the interest held by Vincent Rodgers' estate or sell the interest held by Elizabeth Rodgers' estate. Thus, Appellee filed a petition to have the Manor property partitioned by the trial court.
Following a hearing, the trial court entered an order dated January 3, 2012. Therein, the trial court named the interested parties as the estates of both Vincent and Elizabeth Rodgers, noting a 50% interest in the property owned by each, and ordered the property to be partitioned. The court also scheduled a conference to determine how the property would be partitioned.
On January 27, 2012, Appellant filed a notice of appeal from the January 3, 2012 order requiring the Manor property to be partitioned. Once again, the trial court did not direct Appellant to file a Rule 1925(b) statement. The trial court directed this Court to its January 3, 2012 opinion and order for its explanation and reasons supporting its decision regarding the partition of the property.
Appellant now raises the following issues for ...