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Heirs appeal will of the late Cora I. Grove

May 11, 2007|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - A judge will decide within 20 days whether an appeal by heirs challenging the will of the late Cora I. Grove can proceed, or whether it was filed too late.

"The only issue which has the possibility of opening the door for the appellants is the allegation that the will was misrepresented to Mrs. Grove," Senior Judge Paul Millin said Friday at the end of oral arguments in Franklin County Court. "I question whether the facts as alleged indicate that, but I want to study it thoroughly."

The lawsuit claims the 87-year-old widow of the late businessman John L. Grove was terminally ill, heavily sedated and not competent when she signed the will on June 3, 2005, the day before she died. The will reduced by $1.25 million the bequests made to heirs and charities in a Jan. 19, 2005, will.

"The will was not a forgery by the definition of the law," said attorney Jeff McCarron, representing the law firm Barley, Snyder and attorney Martha Walker. No one is contesting that the will was signed by Grove, witnessed and notarized, and "there is no assertion that the will was changed after it was signed," he said.

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McCarron also argued that the appeal to the will being accepted for probate was filed in November 2006, well past the one year statute of limitations for filing such appeals. The only exception to that one-year rule was if fraud was perpetrated on the county's Register of Wills, he said.

There are insufficient facts to invalidate the will, McCarron said.

"You can have a genuine mark or signature on a document and it still be a forgery ... if a misrepresentation was made to the signer," said Lloyd Hampton, the attorney for the heirs. "Misrepresentation of the contents of a document ... does in fact amount to a forgery."

The June 3 will was prepared without Grove's knowledge by Walker, then an attorney with Barley, Snyder, Hampton said. Walker then went to Grove the day before her death and told her about the ceiling collapse at The Capitol Theatre, asking her if she wanted to make a bequest to the theater, he said.

There was no discussion with Grove that the will had been changed to reduce bequests to heirs and charities by $1.25 million, he said. The June 3 will gave $250,000 to the theater.

"Obviously ... If you give more to X, then Y and Z are going to get less," Millin said.

Hampton responded that Walker told Grove she had enough money to make the gift to the theater, without telling her about the other changes in the will. Walker spoke at Grove's funeral, and said Grove asked her to put money in the will for the theater, Hampton said.

The misrepresentations constituted a fraud upon the Register of Wills, Hampton said.

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