IN RE: ESTATE OF SOPHIA M. KRASINSKI A/K/A SOPHIA KRASINSKI A/K/A SOPHIA KRASINSKY LATE OF MORRISDALE (COOPER TOWNSHIP), CLEARFIELD COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA DECEASED NOVEMBER 4, 2006 APPEAL OF: ESTATE OF SOPHIA M. KRASINSKI AND ITS EXECUTOR, EDWARD KRASINSKI IN RE: ESTATE OF SOPHIA M. KRASINSKI, A/K/A SOPHIA KRASINSKI A/K/A SOFIA KRASINSKY, LATE OF MORRISDALE, (COOPER TOWNSHIP) CLEARFIELD COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA DECEASED ON 11/04/06 APPEAL OF: PATRICIA KRASINSKI-DUNZIK
from the Order July 16, 2015 In the Court of Common Pleas of
Clearfield County Orphans' Court at No(s): 1707-0003
BEFORE: GANTMAN, P.J., BENDER, P.J.E., BOWES, J., SHOGAN, J.,
LAZARUS, J., OLSON, J., OTT, J., STABILE, J., and DUBOW, J.
Estate of Sophia M. Krasinski (the Estate) through its
executor, Edward Krasinski (Edward or the Executor), appeals
from the order entered on July 16, 2015, which granted in
part and denied in part exceptions to the order confirming
the first and final account of the Estate. Patricia
Krasinski-Dunzik (Patricia) also appeals from that order.
Upon review, we affirm in part, vacate in part, and remand
for proceedings consistent with this opinion.
matter arises from a dispute among siblings over the
distribution of the real property from the Estate of their
mother, Sophia M. Krasinski (the Decedent). The Decedent had
four children: Patricia, who is married to Gary Dunzik (Gary)
(collectively, the Dunziks); Eleanor J. Krasinski (Eleanor);
James P. Krasinski (James); and Edward.
died testate on November 4, 2006, and the Will was probated
and an Estate opened in 2007. Pursuant to the terms of her
will, Edward was named as executor of the Estate and granted
letters testamentary. The will directed that the
Decedent's debts and funeral expenses be paid from the
assets of the Estate, and that the residue of the Estate be
left in equal shares to the Decedent's four children.
primary assets of the Estate included three parcels of real
estate.Those parcels were: 1) 20 acres of property
with an appraised value of $55, 000 (Johnny Hoover
Place); 2) a barn and 95 acres of property, which
includes 68 acres of coal rights, with an appraised value of
$230, 000 (Wicks' Place); and 3) a house, buildings, and
98.84 acres with an appraised value of $200, 000 (Homestead
7, 2010, Edward, in his capacity as Executor of the Estate,
filed a petition to permit the private sale of real estate to
heirs. In that petition, Edward averred that Patricia was
objecting to the distribution of all three properties because
it was her position she already owns all of them based on a
prior oral agreement between herself and the Decedent. After
argument and briefing, on March 22, 2011, the orphans'
court granted the Executor's petition to permit private
sale of the real estate. Specifically, the orphans' court
concluded that Patricia did not produce a writing to satisfy
the requirements of the statute of frauds to prove that she
owned these properties. The orphans' court also concluded
that Patricia did not present sufficient evidence to remove
the purported oral contract from the statute of
to the sale, on February 8, 2013, letters were sent by the
Estate's attorney to all four heirs explaining the
process by which the sale would occur. Included in this
letter was a statement indicating that if the Dunziks did not
purchase all of the property of Homestead Place, there would
be steps taken to ensure they could maintain ownership of the
home and barn on the property. See Plaintiff's
Exhibit 30 (Estate's Attorney's Letter, 2/8/2013).
private sale was conducted on February 15, 2013. Edward,
James, and Patricia attended the sale. Patricia did not
bid on any of the properties. James and his wife, Marie, bid
$230, 000 for Wicks' Place. Edward bid $55, 000 for
Johnny Hoover Place. Edward, James, and Marie jointly bid
$120, 000 for Homestead Place.
March 7, 2013, the Executor petitioned the orphans' court
to approve the sale of these properties to the residuary
heirs for these amounts. Contrary to the letter of the
Estate's attorney, no provision for Patricia and her
husband's ownership of the house and barn at Homestead
Place was included in the deeds. On March 14, 2013, Patricia
filed pro se an objection to the
petition. On April 30, 2013, after argument, the
orphans' court approved the Executor's petition.
30, 2014, the Executor filed a first and final account.
Patricia, through counsel, filed six objections. Those
objections challenged: 1) the manner in which the private
sale was conducted; 2) the failure to include a limiting
condition regarding the Dunziks' home and barn and
underlying land in the Homestead Place deed; 3) the proposal
to sell Homestead Place with a right-of-way from Johnny
Hoover Place; 4) the appraised values of the properties as
either suppressed or inflated; and 5) tax implications
related to the Executor's report to the Internal Revenue
Service that Patricia sold her interest in the land, and the
Executor's date of death valuation of the real estate.
Objection No. 6 was a series of miscellaneous objections, and
is discussed in section III, infra, as that
objection relates solely to the Executor's appeal.
hearing was held on all objections on September 5, 2014.
Testimony and evidence were sparse at this hearing and the
majority of the testimony did not relate to the objections
filed by the Dunziks. Furthermore, Patricia did not appear;
however, both her husband, Gary, and the Dunziks'
September 10, 2014, the orphans' court ordered Patricia
to file a brief within 30 days, and also provided the
Executor 20 days thereafter to respond. Patricia did not file
a brief, but the Executor filed answers to the objections on
October 27, 2014.
April 22, 2015, the orphans' court entered an order and
opinion in this matter. The orphans' court sustained, in
part, Objection No. 6, finding that natural gas payments
received by the Estate for Homestead Place in the amount of
$39, 536.00 were the property of Patricia and not the Estate,
and directed the filing of an Amended Account to remove the
$39, 536.00 from the Estate. The orphans' court overruled
the remaining objections. With respect to Objection Nos. 1
through 4, concerning the private sale of the properties, the
orphans' court concluded these issues were waived because
they should have been raised in an appeal from the order
confirming the private sale on April 30, 2013, pursuant to
Pennsylvania Rule of Appellate Procedure 342(a)(6) (order
"determining an interest in real … property"
appealable as of right). As to Objection No. 5, tax
ramifications, the orphans' court concluded that the
Executor acted appropriately.
4, 2015, Patricia filed a motion for reconsideration,
contending, inter alia, the April 30, 2013 order
approving the private sale was interlocutory; the Executor
and James and his wife removed a significant amount of timber
from Homestead Place; the party who sold the Decedent's
real estate was the Executor, and not Patricia; and seeking a
revised account that properly reflected the value of the land
on the date of the Decedent's death as the appraised
value, and retraction of improper tax filing. On May 13, 2015,
the orphans' court granted Patricia's motion for
reconsideration and set argument on two issues. Those issues
included: 1) whether the April 30, 2013 order was a final
order, and 2) whether the value of timber removed from the
property was included properly in the account. See
Order, 5/13/2015. By order entered July 16, 2015, the
orphans' court rescinded the May 13, 2015, order,
construed Patricia's motion for reconsideration as
exceptions, and dismissed those exceptions. The
orphans' court also dismissed the exceptions filed by the
Executor concerning ownership of the gas and oil rights to
Executor timely filed a notice of appeal, and Patricia filed
a cross appeal. A divided panel of this Court affirmed
the orphans' court's order in part, vacated in part,
and remanded for further proceedings. Thereafter, Patricia
sought en banc review, which this Court granted. The
matter is now ready for our disposition.
considering both appeals, we bear in mind our well-settled
standard of review.
The [o]rphans' [c]ourt decision will not be reversed
unless there has been an abuse of discretion or a fundamental
error in applying the correct principles of law. This
Court's standard of review of questions of law is de
novo, and the scope of review is plenary, as we may
review the entire record in making our determination. When we
review questions of law, our standard of review is limited to
determining whether the [orphans'] court committed an
error of law.
In re Fiedler, 132 A.3d 1010, 1018 (Pa. Super. 2016)
(citations and quotation marks omitted). For ease of
discussion, we begin with Patricia's appeal.
first consider Patricia's arguments related to the
private sale of property that occurred on February 15, 2013.
She argues that the orphans' court erred in permitting
the private sale that only allowed the heirs to participate
in the bidding because it "was never intended to and did
not, in fact, maximize the value of the real estate for the
benefit of all of the heirs[.]" Patricia's Brief at
13. Patricia also argues that she was not given adequate
notice of the sale. Id. at 15. Patricia further
contends that there was no need for the Executor to offer
Homestead Place for sale with a right of way in favor of
Johnny Hoover Place, except to serve as an impediment and
deterrent to her and her husband's purchase of Homestead
Place. Id. at 16-17. Patricia also argues that James
and Edward "changed[d] the terms of the sale" of
Homestead Place by failing to recognize ownership by Patricia
and her husband of the home and barn, the lands underlying
the home and barn, and the appurtenant facilities servicing
them in the deed. Id. at 18.
orphans' court concluded that Patricia waived these
issues by failing to appeal from the April 30, 2013 order
confirming and approving the private sale, as required by
Pennsylvania Rule of Appellate Procedure 342. See
Orphans' Court Opinion, 4/22/2015, at 8, citing
Pa.R.A.P. 342(a)(6) and (c). As more fully discussed below,
we agree with the orphans' court's determination.
February 12, 2012, Pa.R.A.P. 342 provides, in relevant part:
(a) General rule. An appeal may be taken as of right from the
following orders of the Orphans' Court Division: …
(6) An order determining an interest in real or personal
(c) Waiver of objections. Failure to appeal an order that is
immediately appealable under paragraphs (a)(1)-(7) of this
rule shall constitute a waiver of all objections to such
order and such objections may not be raised in any subsequent
Pa.R.A.P. 342(a)(6), (c).
outset, it is important to recognize that the Executor had
the authority to sell the Decedent's real estate,
pursuant to Sections 3311(a) and 3351 of the Probate, Estate
and Fiduciaries (PEF) Code. Furthermore, the orphans'
court authorized the Executor to sell the real estate by
private sale to the heirs by order entered March 22, 2011.
The private sale took place on February 15, 2013. Thereafter,
on April 30, 2013, the orphans' court approved the sale
and ordered the properties conveyed to the grantees.
See Order, 4/30/2013.
of background to the adoption of current Rule 342, we begin
with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's decision in In
re Estate of Stricker, 977 A.2d 1115 (Pa. 2009), which
involved the prior version of Rule 342. In
Stricker, our Supreme Court held that an
orphans' court's order directing the co-executors to
sell the estate's real estate was an interlocutory order
that was not appealable under Rule 342 or Rule 313
(collateral order). At that time, under Rule 342, the
determination of the finality of an order "making a
distribution, or determining an interest in realty or
personalty or the status of individuals or entities" was
left to the discretion of the orphans' court.
Stricker, at 1117-1118. Because the orphans'
court judge had not certified the order to sell the
estate's real estate as final, the Stricker
Court ruled the order was not appealable under Rule 342. The
Stricker Court further determined the order did not
qualify as a collateral order appealable pursuant to Rule
313. Therefore, the order of this Court quashing the appeal
concurring opinion, Mr. Justice Saylor wrote:
The majority aptly observes that our Rules of Appellate
Procedure contain a vehicle to address the particularized
concerns arising from orders determining interests in estate
property. Specifically, Rule 342 permits an appeal from a
distribution order or an order determining an interest in
estate property to proceed as of right, inter alia,
upon a determination of finality by the orphans' court.
See Pa.R.A.P. 342(1). The majority correctly
interprets the rule as investing absolute, largely
standardless discretion in the orphans' court. I differ,
however, with the majority's categorical assessment
regarding the wisdom of the rule in this regard. See
Majority Opinion, slip op. at 4.
In my view, there are substantial arguments to be made that
estate administration would be better served by a rule
providing for the general appealability of estate-related
orders determining property interests at least in the real
property setting. Notably, the present "determination of
finality" procedure does not closely align with the
justifications for permitting immediate appeals (facilitating
the prompt resolution of potential title disputes to benefit
purchasers, the estate, and beneficiaries). Further, the
vesting of absolute, standardless discretion in our
orphans' courts yields the potential for disparate
… Thus, I believe our Appellate and Orphans' Court
Procedural Rules Committees should continue to study the
application of the present rule in practice and make
recommendations for improvements where appropriate,
particularly given the troubling implications of maintaining
a system based on absolute, largely standardless discretion.
Id. at 1120-1121 (Saylor, J., concurring).
Rule 342 was revised, effective February 12, 2012. The
revised rule eliminated the requirement that the orphans'
court make a determination of finality, and identified
certain orders that would be appealable as of
right. The Rule specifically states that
objections to such orders must be raised in an immediate
appeal, and failure to do so constitutes waiver. The Comment
to Rule 342 states:
[I]t is difficult to analogize civil litigation to litigation
arising in estate, trust and guardianship administration. The
civil proceeding defines the scope of the dispute, but the
administration of a trust or estate does not define the scope
of the litigation in Orphans' Court. Administration of a
trust or an estate continues over a period of time.
Litigation in Orphans' Court may arise at some point
during the administration, and when it does arise, the
dispute needs to be determined promptly and with finality so
that the guardianship or the estate or trust administration
can then continue properly and orderly. Thus, the traditional
notions of finality that are applicable in the context of
ongoing civil adversarial proceedings do not correspond to
litigation in Orphans' Court.
In order to facilitate orderly administration of estates,
trusts and guardianships, the 2011 amendments list certain
orders that will be immediately appealable without any
requirement that the Orphans' Court make a determination
of finality. Orders falling within subdivisions (a)(1)-(7) no
longer require the lower court to make a determination of
Subdivisions (a)(1)-(7) list orders that are unique to
Orphans' Court practice, but closely resemble final
orders as defined in Rule 341(b).
Pa.R.A.P. 342, Comment.
the private sale occurred on February 15, 2013, having been
authorized by the orphans' court's March 22, 2011
order. On March 7, 2013, the Executor filed a Report and
Return of Private Sale (Report), seeking court approval of
the private sale. The Report attached fiduciary deeds for the
properties as Exhibits "1", "2" and
"3". The Executor's fiduciary deed for
Homestead Place contained NO provision
regarding the Dunzik's ownership of the house and barn,
underlying land, and appurtenances. The April 30, 2013 order
finalized the sale of the real estate by the Executor and
approved the fiduciary deeds attached to the Report as
Exhibits 1, 2, and 3.
the orphans' court's April 30, 2013, order explicitly
directs that "the Report of Edward P. Krasinski,
Executor of the estate of the above Decedent, is hereby
approved in all regards and the properties described in
Exhibits 1, 2 and 3 of said Report shall be conveyed to the
grantees in accordance with the terms set out in the
Report." Order, 4/30/2013. As such, the order clearly
"determines an interest in real … property."
Pa.R.A.P. 342(a)(6). Consequently, the orphans'
court's April 30, 2013, order was appealable as of right
pursuant to Rule 342. Although Patricia filed pro se
objections, as the orphans' court noted, she "did
not raise the appropriate issues in her pro se
objections, " and the private sale was confirmed.
Orphans' Court Opinion, 4/22/2015, at 10.
Patricia had challenged ownership of the properties in a
civil action that caused the court to issue a stay on the
Executor's sale of the properties. The civil suit
resulted in the trial court's December 24, 2012,
determination that there was no oral agreement upon which
Patricia could base her claim of ownership of the properties.
This Order was never appealed. See Footnote 5,
supra. Therefore, it is ...