Appeal dismissed on Cora Grove will

June 19, 2007|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - A judge has ruled that an appeal by heirs of the will of the late Cora I. Grove was filed too late and that they failed to show it was fraudulent when admitted for probate in 2005.

Senior Judge Paul Millin filed the opinion with the Franklin County Clerk of Courts Office on Friday. He dismissed the appeal, writing that it was filed after the statute of limitations expired and failed to demonstrate "facts which would constitute a forgery, likewise there are not facts alleged that would constitute a fraud" on the Franklin County Register of Wills.

Heirs Gerald F. Lute, Elaine J. Heiler, Jane A. Thompson, Gail F. Runshaw, Gloria F. Tagnosky, George Heiler and Lori Kramer filed the appeal of the will in December 2006, more than a year after the will of the widow of the late industrialist John L. Grove was admitted for probate with the Register of Wills.


At issue was $1.25 million from the Grove estate bequeathed to the heirs and local charities in a Jan. 19, 2005, will that was redistributed in the will Grove signed June 3, 2005, the day before she died.

The preliminary objections to the appeal filed by law firm Barley Snyder and Martha Walker, who was co-executor of Grove's estate, stated that the appeal was not filed within the one-year statute of limitations. Millin wrote in his opinion that the statute of limitations "is mandatory and cannot be set aside to entertain a claim of undue influence."

The only exception, Millin wrote, is where "fraud has been practiced upon the Register of Wills" by submitting a known forgery.

Walker, who was with Barley Snyder when the will was signed, said Monday that she was not surprised by the decision "because the law in Pennsylvania is pretty clear on the statute of limitations."

As for the validity of the will, Walker said, "I don't see how you can prove a forgery when the will was signed by Cora Grove, witnessed by three people and notarized."

"I did speak with one client. They are, of course, very disappointed," said Lloyd Hampton, attorney for the heirs. He said a decision on whether to appeal Millin's ruling will not be made until after he has read the decision and met with the heirs.

Millin wrote that the heirs did not contest that Grove signed the will, and there was no allegation that she thought the document was anything other than a will.

In the appeal, the heirs stated that 87-year-old Grove was "incapable of making any type of business or estate decisions" in her final days and that Walker and co-executor Patricia Carbaugh "devised a scheme to divert $1,250,000 from Grove heirs and charities." One of the charities to benefit from that diversion, according to the appeal, was the Capitol Theatre Foundation, which received $250,000 in the later will to replace the ceiling that partially collapsed on April 30, 2005.

"The conclusion, asserted by the Appellants, that attorney Walker lied to (Grove) by stating that she had sufficient funds to make the gift to the Capital Theater (sic) is absurd," Millin wrote.

The heirs "admit that there were sufficient funds to make the gift" to the theater, Millin wrote. Because the estate was "finite ... any additional gifts would diminish some gifts previously made," Millin wrote.

As for the statute of limitations, Hampton said it was more than a year after Grove's will was probated that his clients saw a copy of the Jan. 19, 2005, will. One heir had been told the earlier will had been destroyed, according to court papers.

Earlier this month, the heirs filed a writ of summons in the county Prothonotary's Office against Barley Snyder and Walker. The writ is a notice that a party is being sued, but Hampton said he could not comment because no allegations have been filed.

The appeal alleged that the June 3, 2005, will diverted $50,000 to $100,000 from bequests to each of the heirs.

A bequest to the Greencastle-Antrim Foundation was cut by $500,000, while Lutheran Social Services of Central Pennsylvania and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Greencastle, Pa., saw reductions of $100,000 each, the suit stated. The Allison-Antrim Museum and Greencastle-Antrim School District Endowment Fund had bequests reduced $50,000 each in the later will.

Hampton argued in a May 11 hearing before Millin that Walker did not tell Grove about other changes in the will other than the Capitol Theatre bequest.

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