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In re Estate of Boardman

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

November 20, 2013

IN RE: ESTATE OF ETTY C. BOARDMAN APPEAL OF: SEASON PURDY

Appeal from the Order August 13, 2012 In the Court of Common Pleas of Northumberland County Orphans' Court at No(s): OC-09-0063

Joseph D. Seletyn, Esq.

BEFORE: PANELLA, MUNDY, AND MUSMANNO, JJ.

OPINION

PANELLA, J.

Appellant, Season Purdy, granddaughter of the decedent, Etty C. Boardman, appeals from the order entered August 13, 2012, by the Honorable Robert B. Sacavage, Court of Common Pleas of Northumberland County Orphans' Court. On appeal, Purdy argues that the trial court erred in determining that no evidence existed to set aside a Family Settlement Agreement signed by Purdy on the basis of fraud, duress, or undue influence. We affirm.

The decedent, Etty C. Boardman, died on August 2, 2008. Thereafter, her Last Will and Testament was probated and Letters Testamentary were granted to the decedent's daughter, Donna E. Ross, as Executrix on August 12, 2008. On June 10, 2009, a Family Settlement Agreement was executed by all named beneficiaries, including the Appellant, Season Purdy. On July 8, 2009, Purdy filed a Petition for Review Under 20 Pa.C.S.A. § 3521, in which she alleged that the Family Settlement Agreement should be set aside based on fraud, duress, or undue influence. On October 13, 2009, Purdy filed a Petition for a Citation to Show Cause Why an Account Should Not Be Filed in Accordance With 20 Pa.C.S.A. § 3501.1. On August 8, 2012, the orphans' court conducted a hearing, after which the court granted the Estate's oral motion for compulsory nonsuit. This timely appeal followed.

On appeal, Purdy raises the following issue for our review:

Did the [t]rial [c]ourt abuse its discretion or legally err in failing to find the existence of fraud and/or undue influence in the Appellant's execution of the proffered Family Settlement Agreement in the instant matter?

Appellant's Brief, at 4.

We review the entry of compulsory nonsuit as follows:
[T]he trial court, on the oral motion of a party, may enter a nonsuit if the plaintiff has failed to establish a right to relief. Pa.R.C.P., Rule 230.1, 42 Pa.C.S.A. In evaluating the trial court's grant of a nonsuit, "we must view the evidence adduced on behalf of the [plaintiff] as true, reading it in the light most favorable to [her]; giving [her] the benefit of every reasonable inference that a jury might derive from the evidence and resolving all doubts, if any, in [her] favor." Sinclair by Sinclair v. Block, 534 Pa. 563, 568, 633 A.2d 1137, 1139 (1993). Accord Taliferro v. Johns–Manville Corp., 421 Pa.Super. 204, 208, 617 A.2d 796, 799 (1992). Additionally, a compulsory nonsuit may be entered only in cases where it is clear that the plaintiff has not established a cause of action.... When so viewed, a non-suit is properly entered if the plaintiff has not introduced sufficient evidence to establish the necessary elements to maintain a cause of action.... Taliferro v. Johns– Manville Corp., 421 Pa.Super. at 208, 617 A.2d at 799. With respect to the trial court's evidentiary rulings, "[q]uestions concerning the admission and exclusion of evidence are within the sound discretion of the trial court and will not be reversed on appeal absent an abuse of discretion. The basic requisite for the admissibility of any evidence in a case is that it be competent and relevant." Moran v. G. & W.H. Corson, Inc., 402 Pa.Super. 101, 125, 586 A.2d 416, 428 (1991), allocatur denied, 529 Pa. 650, 602 A.2d 860 (1992).

Kefer v. Bob Nolan's Auto Service, Inc., 59 A.3d 621, 631 (Pa.Super. 2012) (citation omitted).

As noted, counsel for the Estate orally requested the entry of compulsory nonsuit at the close of Purdy's case, on the basis that Purdy failed to establish that she entered the Family Settlement Agreement due to fraud, duress, or undue influence. "Family settlement agreements are favored in this Commonwealth because they are an attempt to avoid potentially divisive litigation." In re Estate of Brojack, 467 A.2d 1175, 1179 (Pa.Super. 1983). "[W]here a fair and valid agreement is present it will be upheld whenever possible; in the absence of fraud the agreement is binding even though based on an error of law." Id. (citation omitted).

Purdy argues that under the decedent's Last Will and Testament, she would have received the one-third share of the estate bequeathed to Colin L. Boardman, Purdy's natural father, who passed away after the decedent's will was written. Purdy claims that upon Colin Boardman's death, his share of the estate legally lapsed to her as Colin Boardman's only child. Appellant's Brief, at 9. Under the terms of the Family Settlement Agreement signed by Purdy, she received only approximately five percent of the Estate, or $3, 000.00. Id., at 10. Purdy maintains that she was fraudulently induced to sign the Family Settlement Agreement by her aunt, Donna Ross, Executrix of the ...


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