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Law School Case Brief

Kimmel's Estate - 278 Pa. 435, 123 A. 405 (1924)


While the informal character of a paper is an element in determining whether or not it was intended to be testamentary, this becomes a matter of no moment when it appears thereby that the decedent's purpose was to make a posthumous gift. Deeds, mortgages, letters, powers of attorney, agreements, checks, notes, etc., have all been held to be, in legal effect, wills.


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 orphans’ court directed the register of wills to probate the said letter, 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.


Was the letter in question testamentary in character?




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.

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