IN RE: THE ESTATE OF ANNA S. WIERZBICKI A/K/A ANNA WIERZBICKI, DECEASED
WANDA KORENOSKI, EXECUTRIX JOAN AND CHRISTOPHER CLARK, APPELLANTS
from the Order December 12, 2016 In the Court of Common Pleas
of Allegheny County Orphans' Court at No(s): NO.
BEFORE: BOWES, J., LAZARUS, J., and OTT, J.
and Christopher Clark ("the Clarks") appeal from
the order entered in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny
County, Orphans' Court Division, denying their motion for
summary judgment seeking a determination that a certain Wells
Fargo account belonging to Anna S. Wierzbicki, Deceased
("Decedent"), was a testamentary asset and
determining, sua sponte, that the account is a
non-probate asset. Upon careful review, we affirm in part and
reverse in part.
died on February 25, 2011, leaving a will dated September 2,
2008. Decedent gave her estate, in three equal parts, to: (1)
her niece, Joan Clark, and her husband, Christopher Clark, or
the survivor of them; (2) her niece, Wanda Korenoski, and her
husband, Allen Korenoski, or the survivor of them; and (3)
her niece, Florence Eileen Zalewski, and her husband, Chester
Zalewski, or the survivor of them. Decedent appointed
Florence Zalewski and Wanda Korenoski as co-executrices.
However, Florence renounced her right to serve and died
thereafter, leaving Wanda Korenoski ("Executrix")
as sole executrix.
issue in this case is the ownership of a Wells Fargo account
ending in the number 6428 ("Account"). Decedent
opened the Account in January 2008. At the time, the Decedent
did not execute a transfer on death designation. On September
19, 2008, Decedent gave Executrix power of attorney over the
point in January 2011, Executrix went to Decedent's
apartment, at which time Decedent asked her to complete the
beneficiary designation page of a Transfer on Death
("TOD") Application for the Account. Executrix
hand-wrote the names, addresses, social security numbers,
telephone numbers, birth dates and percentage interests of
the beneficiaries on page two of the application. On January
29, 2011, Decedent signed and dated the beneficiary
designation, which gave Executrix 60% of the account proceeds
and 40% to Florence Eileen Zalewski. The TOD application was
date-stamped upon receipt by Wells Fargo on February 3, 2011.
Decedent died on February 25, 2011. On March 3, 2011, Wells
Fargo preliminarily rejected the TOD application for failure
to designate a contingent TOD beneficiary. The rejection was
ultimately reversed and the TOD application was approved on
April 6, 2011.
December 5, 2014, the Executrix filed an account of her
administration. The Clarks filed objections asserting,
inter alia, that the Executrix breached her
fiduciary duties by failing to pursue, for the benefit of the
estate, recovery of the funds contained in the Account and,
instead, retained a percentage of them for her own benefit.
Specifically, the Clarks asserted that the TOD beneficiary
designation was invalid because: (1) Wells Fargo failed to
accept it prior to Decedent's death; (2) the
beneficiary designations were completed by Executrix, who
held power of attorney on the account, in contravention of 20
Pa.C.S.A. §§ 6407 and 6410; and (3) Wells Fargo
rejected the TOD application after Decedent's death,
rendering it unenforceable under 20 Pa.C.S.A. §§
6407, 6409 and 6410. The Clarks also alleged that Executrix
exercised undue influence upon the Decedent. Accordingly, the
Clarks claim that the beneficiary designation is invalid and
the Account is the property of the estate.
Executrix filed an answer to the Clarks' objections, in
which she denied that the failure to designate a contingent
beneficiary invalidated the TOD designation. The Executrix
also asserted that Wells Fargo followed its own procedures in
screening and ultimately accepting Decedent's TOD
designation and that the legal bases for the Clarks'
claims are unsound.
March 23, 2016, the Clarks filed a motion for partial summary
judgment asking that the Account be deemed a testamentary
asset because the TOD designation was facially invalid under
the Transfer on Death Security Registration Act ("the
Act"), 20 Pa.C.S.A §§ 6401-6413, and the
common law of contracts. The motion did not, however,
address the undue influence claim. On December 12, 2016, the
court denied the motion and further concluded, as a matter of
law, that the Account was a non-probate asset. This appeal
follows, in which the Clarks raise the following issues for
1. Did the [Orphans' Court] commit an error of law by
failing to conclude that the Wells Fargo account is a
2. Did the [Orphans' Court] commit an error of law and/or
abuse its discretion when concluding - sua sponte
and as a matter of law - that the Wells Fargo account is not
a testamentary asset?
Brief of Appellants, at 4-5.
begin by briefly noting that this Court has jurisdiction to
decide the instant matter pursuant to Pa.R.A.P. 342(a)(6).
Rule 342(a)(6) provides that an appeal may be taken as of
right from an order of the Orphans' Court Division that
determines an interest in real or personal property. In this
case, the Orphans' Court held, as a matter of law, that
the Account was a non-probate asset belonging to the
beneficiaries named in the TOD ...