Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Kimmel's Estate case brief

Kimmel's Estate case brief summary278 Pa. 435

SYNOPSIS: Appellant heir sought review of a decree of the orphans' court (Pennsylvania), which directed the register of wills to probate a letter written by the decedent to two of his children, who were named in it as beneficiaries.

-The decedent died suddenly on the afternoon of the same day that he wrote and mailed the letter to two of his children.
-The letter instructed that if anything happened, the designated property was to go to the two children.
-The decedent added that they should lock the letter up and that it might help them out.
-The heir argued that the letter was not testamentary in character and that it was not properly signed as required by law in order to constitute a will.

The court held that the letter was testamentary.

-The words if anything happened conditioned the gift and thus strongly supported the idea of a testamentary intent.
-The statement that the letter might help the named distributees out also indicated that the decedent meant to create a testamentary gift.
-Moreover, the decedent appeared to expect an early demise, as evidenced by the letter itself and the fact of his sickness and recent inability to work.
-The court also held that the decedent meant the word "Father" as a completed signature as it was the method employed by the decedent in signing all such letters and was mailed by him as a finished document.
-Thus, his intent to execute was apparent.

A document that is a formal will is testamentary in character and may be admitted to probate if the attenuating circumstances before and at the time of the testator’s death, along with the wording of the will, express the intent to make a gift of property at death.

OUTCOME: The court affirmed the decree, which probated the letter, and dismissed the appeal.

Kimmel’s Estate (Pa. 1924) [31 CB 237]: Father handwrote and signed as “Father” a letter to children indicating that if anything happened to him, some money in a bank account went to the children.  Father died the same day.  Rule: The language of the letter (“if enny thing happens”) combined with fact that letter makes a gift of property creates the testamentary intent implied in every will.  The informal character of the letter doesn’t prevent it from being probated as a holographic will, and the gifts made in the letter are testamentary.
i.    Signing letter as “Father” didn’t defeat the holographic will b/c it answers all the purposes of the Wills Act and would’ve been way decedent signed letters to sons
ii.   Conditional wills like this are generally treated as being effective if the testator dies, regardless of the cause of the death

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