In Re Estate of Smith Case Brief

Summary of In Re Estate of Smith (1997), Superior Court of Pennsylvania, 694 A.2d 1099

Procedural posture: Appeal and cross appeal from trial court, denying both appellant’s motions (wife and nephew) and entered a final decree in favor of appellees (recipients of four checks).

Facts: Smith wrote out four checks to four different women (girlfriend, her sister, his sister, her daughter) and delivered them, two via mail and two by hand. He then committed suicide. In his holographic will, he said he wanted his nephew (an appellant) to have the option to buy his car at a reduced rate. He then committed suicide. All four checks were cashed after his death, and all four recipients knew of his death when they cashed them. Trial court found that checks were valid as gifts in causa mortis and that the nephew did not have the option to purchase the car.

Issue: Did decedent’s death revoke the gifts of the checks that were not cashed until after he died? >No.

Did the lower court properly conclude that the holographic will statement was merely a request and not a mandatory obligation of the decedent’s estate? >No.

Holding: Affirmed in part (checks are valid), reversed in part (nephew can buy the car).

Rationale: Establishing a gift in causa mortis (in apprehension of death) requires that the donor intended to make the gift, he knew he was going to die, and he actually did die. These are all established by the facts of the case. Option to buy is a direct gift of the property itself, and court held that decedent intended that the option be interpreted as a direct gift before the residue and remainder of the estate is divided.

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