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In re Estate of Scarpaci

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

December 13, 2017

IN RE: ESTATE OF THOMAS PAUL SCARPACI, DECEASED APPEAL OF: PATRICIA A. SCARPACI

         Appeal from the Order Entered October 18, 2016 In the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County Orphans' Court at No(s): 02-13-07272

          BEFORE: BOWES, J., LAZARUS, J., and OTT, J.

          OPINION

          LAZARUS, J.

         Patricia A. Scarpaci ("Wife") appeals from the order entered in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Orphans' Court Division, denying and striking her claim to a spousal share of the Estate of Thomas P. Scarpaci, Deceased ("Decedent") on the basis that she forfeited her claim pursuant to 20 Pa.C.S.A. § 2106. Upon careful review, we reverse.

         Decedent died, intestate, on October 9, 2013. He was survived by Wife, two adult children from a prior marriage and two minor children from his union with Wife. At the time of Decedent's death, he and Wife were estranged and in the midst of divorce proceedings initiated by Wife. During the marriage, Wife leveled allegations of abuse against Decedent, whom she alleged to be an alcoholic. On July 26, 2005, Wife filed a petition for protection of abuse ("PFA") against Decedent, alleging that, while drunk, Decedent pushed and slapped her and engaged in generally abusive behavior. The court granted Wife a temporary PFA order excluding Decedent from the marital residence[1] pending a final hearing. Prior to the final hearing, Wife withdrew the petition.

         On January 23, 2008, Wife filed a complaint in divorce. On July 16, 2009, Wife filed a "Petition For Special Relief and For the Exclusive Right to Reside in the Marital Residence." In support of her claim for relief, Wife alleged the following:

Defendant is an alcoholic who drinks excessively every night. He intimidates the children and his wife by swearing at them, belittling them and threatening them. He eats like an animal by tearing into packages of food and making a mess on counters and floors. He stays up all night and disturbs the children and wife's sleep by opening and closing doors, getting chopped ice, running the water for extended periods of time and running the toilet improperly by holding the handle until it sticks in place all night and runs. The [p]etitioner's children called police to their residence on 1/9/02 when they witnessed the defendant kicking the petitioner. The police were called numerous times following this for the defendant's drunken behaviors. In 2004, CYF escorted petitioner and petitioner's eldest daughter home from the high school since they feared for their safety from the defendant's alcoholic rage from that morning. On 7/25/05, the petitioner filed for a protection from abuse [order] against the defendant after he pushed and slapped her in one of his drunken rages.

         Brief in Support of Patricia Scarpaci's Assertion of Her Rights as Surviving Spouse, 2/12/16, at Exhibit [2] ("Petition for Special Relief"). On September 4, 2009, the court issued an order directing Decedent to move from the marital residence within 75 days and to complete an alcohol evaluation. The Decedent died before a decree in divorce was entered.

         Wife petitioned for and received letters of administration on Decedent's estate. On April 22, 2015, Wife filed an Inheritance Tax return reflecting that Decedent's assets were to be distributed in equal shares to his four children. On May 25, 2015, Wife filed a Certification of Notice Under Rule 5.6(a)[2] in which she named herself, as well as Decedent's four children, as the beneficiaries of his estate. On November 9, 2015, Wife's counsel faxed to counsel for Decedent's two adult children ("Appellees") an unsigned copy of a petition for adjudication and statement of proposed distribution indicating that the estate would be divided equally amongst the Decedent's four children. This document was never filed of record. On November 13, 2015, Wife's counsel faxed to Appellees' counsel a revision to the statement of proposed distribution reflecting that Wife would be taking her spousal share. This document was signed by Wife but, again, was never filed of record.

         At the audit of the account, counsel for the Appellees raised an oral objection to Wife's decision to take her spousal share. The Orphans' Court held a status conference, but the parties were unable to resolve their issues. The court concluded that the facts were not in dispute, and ordered the parties to submit briefs, upon which the court would decide the matter. On October 17, 2016, the court issued an order in which it held that: (1) "the election by Patricia A. Scarpaci under 20 Pa.C.S.A. Section 2201, et seq., and specifically Section 2203 be denied and stricken, " and (2) "that Patricia Scarpaci's claim to an intestate share of the Decedent's Estate under 20 Pa.C.S.A. Section 2102(4) is denied and forfeited pursuant to 20 Pa.C.S.A. Section 2106 and 2208." Orphans' Court Order, 10/17/16.

         This timely appeal follows, in which Wife raises the following issues for our review:

1. Whether the [Orphans' Court] erred as a matter of law and by misapplying the law to the facts and evidence of record by stating that an election was required by the surviving spouse to assert and claim her intestate share of the Decedent's estate?
2. Whether the [Orphans' Court] erred as a matter of law and by misapplying the law to the facts and evidence of record by denying the surviving spouse's intestate share of the Decedent's estate?
3. Whether the [Orphans' Court] erred as a matter of law and by misapplying the law to the facts and evidence of record by ruling that the surviving spouse had forfeited her ...

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