Appeal from the Order Entered April 16, 2012 In the Court of Common Pleas of Westmoreland County Orphans' Court at No(s): 65-09-00250, 65-09-02133
BEFORE: BOWES, LAZARUS, and COLVILLE, [*] JJ.
Appellant Mark D. Bradley, in his capacity as executor under the will of the estate of Elizabeth J. Rodgers, has appealed from two orders entered on April 16, 2012 that dismissed his exceptions to orders entered in these matters on August 30, 2011. One order was entered at orphans' court division action number 65-09-00250, regarding the estate of Elizabeth J. Rodgers, deceased, and the other order was entered at orphans' court division action number 65-09-02133, regarding the estate of Vincent V. Rodgers, deceased. We affirm.
Elizabeth J. Rodgers ("Elizabeth") died testate on January 19, 2009, her will was admitted to probate, and letters testamentary were granted to Appellant herein. Vincent V. Rodgers ("Vincent") was Elizabeth's brother, and he died testate on October 24, 2009. His will was probated and letters testamentary as to his estate were granted to Gregory V. Rodgers, who is the Appellee herein. The present appeal concerns two petitions, which were filed at the respective estates by Appellant.
In those petitions, Appellant asked the orphans' court to reform four deeds executed on March 17, 1997, and to quiet title to the land described in those deeds. Two deeds were executed by Elizabeth, and they transferred her interest in two parcels of real estate to a limited partnership that was not formed on the date in question. The other two deeds were executed by Vincent, and they transferred his interest in the same two pieces of land to a different but also nonexistent limited partnership. None of the four deeds was recorded. Appellant sought to have the designated grantee under all four deeds altered. Appellant's proposed grantee was a third limited partnership, which also was not created until after March 17, 1997.
Appellee filed petitions to strike Appellant's petitions. Said petitions were granted and the orphans' court struck Appellant's request to have the four deeds reformed. It also declined to transfer the two parcels of real estate into the name of the limited partnership that Appellant claimed was the intended grantee under the four deeds. The court reasoned that the four March 17, 1997 deeds were void since they purported to transfer the described properties into the names of entities that did not legally exist when the deeds were executed. It concomitantly concluded that the two parcels of land could not be legally transferred into the name of the entity that Appellant alleged should own it. The orphans' court therefore dismissed Appellant's petitions to reform the March 17, 1997 deeds. After the denial of his exceptions to that ruling, Appellant filed the present appeals, which were consolidated for disposition. Appellant presents this contention for our review:
The Trial Court declared that certain deeds to a limited partnership were "void or invalid" because as of the date of the deeds, the Certificates of Limited Partnership had not yet been filed with the Department of State. Did the Trial Court err in determining that the deeds were void, invalid and/or of no affect because on the date of the deeds the Certificate of Limited Partnership had not yet been filed when, the Certificates of Limited Partnership were filed approximately three months after the date of the deeds and the parties conducted themselves, for over ten years, as if the deeds were valid and enforceable?
Appellant's brief at 3.
Initially, we outline the standard of review that we employ when reviewing the rulings rendered by an orphans' court. "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." In re Estate of Pendergrass, 26 A.3d 1151, 1153 (Pa.Super. 2011). Herein, the pertinent facts are uncontested, and this matter involves purely an application of the law to those facts. Therefore, in the present case, we will reverse if "the rules of law on which the court relied are palpably wrong or clearly inapplicable[.]" Id.
The orphans' court set forth the pertinent facts. During their lifetimes, Elizabeth and Vincent owned and operated two funeral homes. One funeral home was located in Manor while the other one was situated in Irwin. Elizabeth and Vincent acquired the real estate for the Manor funeral home in 1961, and the named grantees under that deed were Vincent V. Rodgers and Elizabeth J. Rodgers as tenants in common. In 1964, they obtained the real estate for the Irwin funeral home, and that land was titled in the same manner.
Elizabeth and Vincent operated these funeral homes jointly and filed annual partnership returns for these businesses under the name of Rodgers Funeral Home. When he died, Vincent was the principal partner and owner of the Vincent V. Rodgers Family Limited Partnership. That limited partnership actually functioned, similarly to a living trust, as an estate planning device. The Vincent V. Rodgers Family Limited Partnership owned Vincent's personal liquid investment assets. When she died, Elizabeth was the principal partner and owner of the Elizabeth J. Rodgers Family Limited Partnership, which likewise operated as an estate planning vehicle and held her personal liquid investment assets.
On March 17, 1997, Vincent conveyed his one-half interest in the Irwin real estate to "Vincent V. Rodgers and Elizabeth J. Rodgers, General Partners Under the Vincent V. Rodgers Family Limited Partnership." That same day, Vincent transferred his one-half interest in the Manor real estate to "Vincent V. Rodgers and Elizabeth J. Rodgers, General Partners Under the Vincent V. Rodgers Family Limited Partnership." Simultaneously, Elizabeth conveyed her one-half interest in the Irwin property to "Elizabeth J. Rodgers and Vincent V. Rodgers, general partners under the Elizabeth J. Rodgers Family Limited Partnership." She also deeded her one-half interest in the Manor real estate to "Elizabeth J. Rodgers and Vincent ...