Argued November 28, 1973
Decided January 24, 1974
Wills — Charitable bequests — Made within thirty days of death — Objectors have standing only to the extent they would benefit by invalidity — Bequests in earlier will not considered new gifts if increased by revocation within thirty days of death — Section 7(1) of The Wills Act, as amended in 1970.
1. Under § 7(1) of The Wills Act, as amended in 1970 (20 Pa.S. § 2507 (1)), a person may object to the validity of a charitable bequest made within thirty days of the testator's death only to the extent that such person would benefit by the invalidity of the bequest.
2. Under § 7(1) of The Wills Act, as amended in 1970 (20 Pa.S. § 2507 (1)), a charitable bequest which is increased by virtue of a revocation which took place within thirty days of testator's death is not considered a new charitable bequest; this would include an increase in the share of the residuary estate as a result of the elimination of one of four residuary legatees named in an earlier will which was revoked within the thirty day period.
3. In this case where a will, executed two days before testatrix' death on September 26, 1970, expressly revoked a will executed in 1962 and where the 1970 will named charitable legatees not named in the 1962 will, increased the amount of pecuniary bequests to some of the charities named in the 1962 will and eliminated one of four charitable residuary legatees designated in the 1962 will it was Held: (1) the increase in the residuary shares from one-fourth to one-third of the three charities named in both the 1962 and 1970 wills were not new charitable bequests, (2) new charitable pecuniary bequests if declared invalid, would pass under the residuary clause, and (3) since heirs of testatrix would not benefit from the invalidity of any of the charitable bequests provided by the 1970 will they had no standing to object.
Mr. Chief Justice JONES took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
Before EAGEN, O'BRIEN, ROBERTS, POMEROY, NIX and MANDERINO, JJ.
Appeal, No. 329, Jan. T., 1973, from decree of Court of Common Pleas, Orphans' Court Division, of Luzerne County, No. 1581 of 1970, in re estate of Gertrude M. Prynn. Decree of distribution affirmed; reargument refused March 4, 1974.
Proceedings upon petition by surviving relatives raising objections to charitable bequests in decedent's last will. Before LOPATTO, J.
Adjudication filed dismissing objections, holding bequests valid and ordering distribution in accordance therewith. Exceptions thereto by objectants dismissed. Objectants appealed.
E. Charles Coslett, with him Cardoni, Coslett, Cappellini, Sobota, Piccone Kane, for appellants.
Stephen A. Teller, with him Mitchell Jenkins, Frank Townend, and E. Walter Samuel, for appellees.
On September 24, 1970, Gertrude Prynn executed, by mark, a last will and testament expressly revoking all previous wills. Two days later Mrs. Prynn died. Her will was probated on September 29, 1970. Testatrix's heirs-at-law, five first cousins, objected to certain charitable bequests in the 1970 will on the theory that these bequests were invalid because made within thirty days of death. The Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County, Orphans' Court Division overruled the objections. Exceptions to the adjudication were dismissed. We affirm.
The objections were filed pursuant to § 7(1) of the Wills Act of 1947, Act of April 24, 1947. P.L. 89, § 7(1), as amended, 20 Pa.S. § 2507(1) (Special Pamphlet 1972).
This Court's jurisdiction attaches by the Appellate Court Jurisdiction Act of 1970, Act of July 31, 1970, P.L. 673, art. II, § 202 (3), 17 Pa.C.S.A. § 211.202(3) (Supp. 1973).
Mrs. Prynn's 1970 will revoked a holographic will dated January 22, 1962. In the earlier instrument testatrix made several specific bequests to individuals and charities. The residuary estate was to be divided into four equal shares. The 1970 will directed a tripartite division of the residue; the 1970 residuary beneficiaries are three of the four named in the 1962 document.
A codicil dated July 28, 1968, was also revoked. The provisions of the codicil are not germane to the issue presently before this Court.
As the orphans' court noted in its adjudication, there is some question regarding the number of charities designated in the 1962 will as residuary beneficiaries. Our disposition makes unnecessary a determination whether in 1962 testatrix intended the residue of her estate to benefit more than four charitable beneficiaries.
The American Bible Society, the fourth residuary beneficiary of the 1962 will is the recipient of a specific bequest by the 1970 will.
The heirs-at-law asserted before the orphans' court that section 2507(1) of the Probate, Estates and Fiduciaries Code invalidated testatrix's charitable gifts made within the thirty days of death to the extent the gifts exceeded those provided by her 1962 will. This provision, the heirs allege, nullified several specific bequests and the disposition of one-quarter of the residuary bequest. The heirs reasoned that since each of the three residuary beneficiaries were entitled to only one-quarter of the residue in the 1962 will, the increase to a one-third share in the 1970 will constituted a "new gift," invalid under section 2507(1). This portion of the residue and the new specific charitable bequests, it was argued, passed by intestacy to the heirs-at-law.
Wills Act of 1947, § 7(1), Act of April 24, 1947, P.L. 89, § 7(1), as amended, Act of April 22, 1970, P.L. 305, § 1, Act of June 30, 1972, P.L. 508, No. 164, 20 Pa.S. § 2507(1) (Special Pamphlet 1972).
"Wills shall be modified upon the occurrence of any of the following circumstances, among others:
(1) Death within 30 days; religious and charitable gifts. Any bequest or devise for religious or charitable purposes included in a will or codicil executed within 30 days of the death of the testator shall be invalid to the extent that someone who would benefit by its invalidity objects: Provided, That the Commonwealth shall not have the right so to object. No such objection shall be valid unless it is in writing signed by the objector and unless a copy thereof shall be filed with the clerk of the court having jurisdiction within six months of the probate of the will. Each person so objecting shall receive the share he would have received if the entire bequest or devise had been invalid and the balance, if any, of the bequest or devise shall be valid. The 30-day period shall be so computed as to include the day on which the will or codicil is written and to exclude the day of death. Unless the testator directs otherwise, if such a will or codicil could revoke or supersede a prior will or codicil executed at least 30 days before the testator's death, and not theretofore revoked or superseded and the original of which can be produced in legible condition, and if each instrument shall contain an identical gift for substantially the same religious or charitable purpose, the gift in the later will or codicil shall not be subject to objection; or if each instrument shall give for substantially the same religious or charitable purpose a cash legacy or a share of the residuary estate or a share of the same asset, payable immediately or subject to identical prior estates and conditions, the later gift shall not be subject to objection to the extent to which it shall not exceed the prior gift. If a bequest or devise is revoked within 30 days of death and the revocation has the effect of increasing the religious or charitable bequest or devise, such increase shall not be considered a new or additional bequest or devise for religious or charitable purposes within the meaning of this act."
The orphans' court concluded that although the charitable bequests had been made within thirty days of death, they were not invalid. The court held that sections 2514(10) and (11) of the Probate, Estates and Fiduciaries Code require that the challenged gifts, both specific and residuary, pass to the residuary beneficiaries and not to the heirs-at-law. The court could find no authority for decreeing a partial intestacy even if all residuary beneficiaries are charities taking "new gifts." Since section 2507(1) invalidates a bequest only "to the extent that someone who would benefit by its invalidity objects," and the heirs could not benefit, the court held all charitable bequests, specific and residuary, valid. The heirs have renewed their argument on appeal.
20 Pa.S. §§ 2514(10) (11) (Special Pamphlet 1972).
In holding the residuary bequests valid, the orphans' court cited Baum Estate, 418 Pa. 404, 211 A.2d 521 (1965); Yeakel Estate, 23 Pa. D. C.2d 17 (O.C. Lancaster County 1960); Denney Estate, 7 Fiduciary Rptr. 610 (O.C. Allegheny County 1957); and York Estate, 3 Fiduciary Rptr. I (O.C. Lehigh County 1952).
We need not examine the reasoning of the orphans' court for we conclude that section 2507(1) specifically precludes the disposition advocated by the heirs. The 1970 amendment to section 2507(1) provides: "If a bequest or devise is revoked within 30 days of death and the revocation has the effect of increasing the religious or charitable bequest or devise, such increase shall not be considered a new or additional bequest or devise for religious or charitable purposes within the meaning of this act."
This Court may affirm the decision of a court of original jurisdiction if any ground for affirmance exists. Concord Township Appeal, 439 Pa. 466, 469, 268 A.2d 765, 766 (1970); Ridley Township v. Pronesti, 431 Pa. 34, 37, 244 A.2d 719, 720-21 (1968); Sherwood v. Elgart, 383 Pa. 110, 117 A.2d 899 (1955).
See 20 Pa.S. § 794 (Special Pamphlet 1972).
"The Supreme Court of the Commonwealth shall, in all cases of appeal from a decree of the orphans' court division, hear, try and determine the same as to right and justice may belong, and decree according to the equity thereof . . . ."
Act of April 22, 1970, P.L. 305, § 1, as amended, 20 Pa.S. § 2507 (Special Pamphlet 1972). This amendment, effective as of the date of approval, is applicable in interpreting this will since testatrix executed her will and died after the amendment's effective date.
The 1970 will revoked all bequests made by the 1962 will including the bequest of one-quarter of the residuary estate to the American Bible Society. Thus, the bequests to the three 1970 residuary beneficiaries were increased by the revocation but, by the terms of the 1970 amendment to section 2507(1), these are not to be considered "new gifts." The three may therefore take their increased residuary shares. If any specific bequest in the 1970 will were found invalid, nothing would prevent it from passing by the residuary clause. Accordingly, the heirs could in no circumstances benefit from the invalidity of any bequest provided by the 1970 will. Since the heirs cannot benefit, they have no standing to object.
20 Pa.S. § 2507 (Special Pamphlet 1972).
The orphans' court thus properly overruled the objections and dismissed the exceptions.
Decree of distribution affirmed. Each party pay own costs.
Mr. Chief Justice JONES took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.