Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

by
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted review to determine rightful title to a parcel of real property claimed by competing grantees, each of whom invoked a real or purported conveyance from the property’s owner. An additional issue under consideration was the application of res judicata and collateral estoppel during estate administration proceedings with regard to an earlier order of the Orphans’ Court determining the validity of a will. Relying upon a presumption that valid delivery of a deed occurs on the date of its execution and acknowledgment, the Superior Court held that title to the real estate vested in the grantee of the earlier, unrecorded instrument. The Superior Court further held that, where the Orphans’ Court determined that a will was valid and permitted a photocopy of that will to be probated, a participating party’s subsequent claim that the will was revoked was barred by the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel. The Supreme Court determined the Orphans’ Court’s decision was supported by competent evidence, the court applied the correct principles of law in evaluating the question of delivery, and the court did not abuse its discretion in determining who possessed superior title to the property at issue by virtue of the 2006 Deeds. In reversing the Orphans’ Court’s decision on that issue, the Superior Court erred. When the parties litigated the alleged dissipation of estate assets, they did so within the context of those same estate administration proceedings. The Supreme Court concluded that a party’s challenge to the Orphan’s Court’s order did not arise within the context of subsequent litigation following a “final order,” but, rather, was advanced within the same proceedings as the challenged order; neither res judicata nor collateral estoppel served to preclude her claim. In this regard as well, the order of the Superior Court was reversed. View "In Re: Estate of Plance; Appeal of: Plance" on Justia Law

by
At issue before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was a matter of first impression: the effect of 20 Pa.C.S. 7710.2 (enacted in 2006) upon the scope of the assets used to calculate the pretermitted spousal share. The named beneficiaries of the Trust upon Decedent’s death were his then-wife Joanne, and the children born to Decedent and Joanne. Pursuant to the terms of the Trust, Decedent had the prerogative to receive any portion of the trust income during his lifetime, to draw any amount of the trust principal for his own welfare, comfort, and support, and to terminate the Trust. Joanne died on August 15, 2010. On December 13, 2010, Decedent prepared a Last Will and Testament. Approximately one year later, on December 30, 2011, Decedent married Appellee Mary Jo Kulig. Since the will had been executed before his second marriage, it made no provision for Kulig, nor did the will include any indication that Decedent had contemplated remarriage when he executed it. On February 3, 2012, barely one month after marrying Kulig, Decedent died, survived by Kulig and by appellants (his children), Carrie Budke and James Kulig. By the terms of the Trust, if Joanne predeceased Decedent, the balance of the Trust corpus was to be divided and distributed to Children according to the Trust’s terms. Kulig undisputedly was entitled upon Decedent’s death to an ERISA benefit plan. The parties stipulated that Kulig, a pretermitted spouse under Pennsylvania law, was entitled to receive the same share of Decedent’s estate to which she would have been entitled had he died intestate. The Children filed a petition for declaratory judgment before the Orphans’ Court seeking a declaration that the Trust was excluded from Kulig’s pretermitted spousal share. Kulig opposed the petition, arguing primarily that, in calling for the application of the same interpretive principles to trusts that apply to wills, Section 7710.2 of the Code established that inter vivos trusts, like other assets, must be considered part of the intestate estate for purposes of calculating the pretermitted share. The Superior Court held Section 7710.2 mandated application to the Trust of the same presumption applicable to the will under Subsection 2507(3). Accordingly, the estate comprising the pretermitted spousal share necessarily included the Trust corpus. The Supreme Court reversed the Superior Court’s determination that the revocable inter vivos trust at issue should have been included in Decedent’s estate for purposes of discerning the pretermitted spouse’s statutory entitlement under 20 Pa.C.S. 2507. View "Re: Trust Under Deed of D. Kulig; Apl of Budke" on Justia Law

by
In an appeal by allowance, the issue presented to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was whether the Superior Court applied the correct statute of limitations for a survival action in a medical professional liability case. In 2005, Elise Dubose was admitted to Albert Einstein Medical Center (Einstein) after she fell in her home and sustained severe head injuries, including anoxia and a brain injury. She was transferred to Willowcrest Nursing Home where Mrs. Dubose suffered malnourishment, dehydration, conscious pain from bedsores, a bone infection, and a sepsis systemic infection. An ulcers located at the sacral region of the spine which Mrs. Dubose developed during her initial hospitalization, gradually increased in size. The sacral ulcer became infected with bacteria from contact with feces. This infection caused sepsis in Mrs. Dubose in September 2007, and she was admitted to Einstein with sepsis. On October 18, 2007, Mrs. Dubose died from sepsis and multiple pressure sores. On August 13, 2009, Robert Dubose, as administrator for Mrs. Dubose's estate, filed a complaint against Willowcrest and Albert Einstein Healthcare Network (collectively Appellants) sounding in negligence and alleged wrongful death. The Supreme Court concluded the statute of limitations for medical professional liability cases in the form of wrongful death or survival actions was two years from the time of the decedent’s death. View "Dubose v. Willowcrest Nur. Home" on Justia Law

by
The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's consideration was whether individuals who were not named in an executed testamentary document have standing to bring a legal malpractice action against the testator’s attorney, as purported third-party beneficiaries to the contract for legal services between the testator and his attorney. After review, the Court concluded such individuals do not have standing to sue the testator’s attorney for a breach of contract. The Court therefore reversed the Superior Court and remanded for reinstatement of the trial court’s order granting summary judgment and dismissing the claims. View "Est. of Robert Agnew v. Ross" on Justia Law

by
This dispute arose out of an attempt to enter a copy of a lost will into probate. Decedent Isabel Wilner died at age 91 in March 2011. Decedent never married. Her intestate heirs were her niece, appellee Dana Wilner and her nephew David Wilner, who was not involved in this litigation. Charles Welles, Esq., a lawyer in Tunkhannock, drafted a will for Decedent, nominating Decedent’s friend Margaret Young as executrix and naming the Decedent's church as the primary beneficiary. Decedent executed the will in June 2007. Attorney Welles made two conformed copies of the will: one copy for his files and gave the other copy was the original will and given to Decedent. Decedent’s live-in caregiver was appellant Linda Baker, a close friend and a cousin by marriage. In April 2010, Attorney Welles prepared two additional documents for Decedent: a codicil which specifically referenced the June 2007 will and changed the executrix from Young to Baker, and a deed transferring ownership of Decedent’s Tunkhannock home to the Pennsylvania church while retaining a life estate. The executed deed was recorded with the county recorder of deeds. As for the codicil, Attorney Welles followed the same procedure as with the will: he made conformed copies, kept one copy for his files, and gave the original and a conformed copy to Decedent. Decedent died on March 16, 2011. Shortly thereafter, Baker went to Decedent’s house to retrieve the will. She discovered that the will had been removed from a downstairs metal box, although other items – including two original codicils and the envelope that had contained the will – were still there. When Baker checked an upstairs safe, she found that all papers had been removed, including a conformed copy of the will. Baker conducted a thorough search of the home but was unable to locate any of the missing items. Without the original will, Baker sought to have Attorney Welles’ conformed copy of the will, together with the original codicils, entered into probate. The court held two evidentiary hearings to determine whether the conformed copy of the will, as produced by Attorney Welles from his files, should have been accepted into probate. During the hearings, the witnesses to the will (members of Attorney Welles' office) testified that they saw Decedent execute the will. However, only one was able to testify to the will’s contents, stating that the terms appearing in the conformed copy accurately reflected the contents of the original will. The Superior Court reversed, concluding that the orphans’ court erred in accepting the conformed copy on the testimony of a single witness. The Supreme Court granted further review to consider the continuing vitality of the two-witness rule and, in particular, whether it properly applied to a will’s contents, as opposed to its execution. Finding that the Superior Court erred in reversing the orphans' court's order, the Supreme Court reinstated the original order. View "In re: Estate of Wilner" on Justia Law

by
The decedent resided in Appellants’ long-term skilled nursing care facility between March and August, 2010. Due to the alleged abuse and neglect inflicted upon her throughout her stay, Decedent suffered a multitude of injuries and illnesses that eventually resulted in her death. Appellee filed suit claiming Appellants knowingly sacrificed the quality of care given to their residents. Relevant to this appeal, Appellants filed preliminary objections seeking to enforce an arbitration agreement which Appellee signed, along with general admission paperwork upon Decedent’s admission to the facility. Appellants appealed the Superior Court’s decision affirming, in relevant part, the trial court’s order overruling Appellants’ preliminary objections seeking to compel arbitration and reserving for trial the underlying negligence action filed by Appellee, daughter of the decedent, and executrix of Decedent’s estate. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court and remanded this case to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Wert v. Manorcare of Carlisle" on Justia Law