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Panel reverses judges's ruling on Cora Grove's will

August 21, 2008|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- A three-judge panel of the Pennsylvania Superior Court on Tuesday reversed a Common Pleas Court decision, ruling that the heirs of the estate of the late Cora I. Grove "are entitled to their day in court" in challenging the will she signed the day before she died.

The seven heirs filed preliminary objections to the will in April 2007, but Senior Judge Paul Millin ruled in June 2007 that the appeal was not filed within the one-year statute of limitations after the will was admitted for probate. Millin also wrote that the heirs did not present facts that would constitute a forgery or a fraud.

Cora I. Grove, widow of the late industrialist John L. Grove, died June 4, 2005, at the age of 87. The day before, she had signed a will that redistributed $1.25 million of her estate from heirs and charities named in a January 2005 will.

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The preliminary objections stated that Grove was too incapacitated to have understood what she was signing and that the new will diverted the bequests to charities in which Martha Walker had an interest.

The Superior Court ruling returns the case to the Court of Common Pleas for the 39th District.

"The main thing we wanted from day one is to have the truth come out," said Gerald F. Lute, Cora Grove's nephew. "Someone has to decide whether wrong was done or not."

The other heirs are Elaine J. Heiler, George Heiler, Jane A. Thompson, Gail F. Runshaw, Gloria F. Tagnosky and Lori Kramer, according to court records.

"This means they will have an opportunity to prove their outrageous allegations and I and Pat Carbaugh and Barley Snyder will have the opportunity to defend them," Walker said Wednesday.

Carbaugh was co-executor of the estate with Walker, and Barley Snyder was the firm Walker was a member of at the time of Grove's death.

Because Millin ruled the heirs' preliminary objections were insufficient to challenge the will, no answer to the objections was ever filed by Carbaugh, the law firm and her, Walker said.

The heirs' challenge could be a drawn-out process, "but will, in my opinion, prove that nothing was done improperly," Walker said.

The Superior Court's ruling could also be appealed by the defendants to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, a decision which has to be made, Walker said.

The Superior Court decision stated that the trial court "erred in supporting its conclusion by finding that the signature on the will was genuine."

"The trial court erroneously states that Appellants failed to allege facts that would support a claim of fraud or forgery," the Superior Court decision stated.

"We conclude the Appellants did allege forgery and fraud, and therefore, are entitled to their day in court on this issue," the court ruled.

The clock on the statute of limitations "begins to run when the injured party possesses sufficient critical facts to put him on notice that a wrong has been committed and that he need investigate to determine whether he is entitled to redress," the decision stated, citing case law.

The heirs stated that Walker went to Grove on June 3 with a pre-prepared document and that Grove had made no request to change her will, the court wrote. Walker asked Grove if she wanted to add money in her will to help replace the collapsed ceiling at the Capitol Theatre, which received $250,000 in the June 3 will, according to the heirs' claims.

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