Forfeiture of Estate of Adult Decedent Dependent on Parental Support
In re: Estate of Small, 2019 WL 336185 (Pa. Super. 2019)(unreported), allocatur granted Sept. 4, 2019, appeal docket 26 EAP 2019
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allocatur to consider whether, pursuant to 20 Pa.C.S.A. § 2106(b)(1), an adult decedent is a “dependent child” where the decedent depended on the support of a parent in order to care for himself.
Charles L. Small died intestate without a spouse or children, at the age of 37. Small had been a paraplegic since the age of 18 when he was shot. Following Charles’s death, his estate recovered $ 90,000.00 as the result of the settlement of a medical malpractice action brought by the Estate. Juanita Small, Charles’s Mother and administrator of the estate, filed a “Petition for Forfeiture of the Estate Pursuant to 20 Pa.C.S. § 2106” with the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, Orphan’s Court asserting that Laverne Dollard (Father) forfeited any right to share in the assets of the Estate under 20 Pa.C.S. § 2106(b)(1), which provides:
(b) Parent’s share.–Any parent who, for one year or upwards previous to the death of the parent’s minor or dependent child, has:
(1) failed to perform the duty to support the minor or dependent child or who, for one year, has deserted the minor or dependent child
shall have no right or interest under this chapter in the real or personal estate of the minor or dependent child. The determination under paragraph (1) shall be made by the court after considering the quality, nature and extent of the parent’s contact with the child and the physical, emotional and financial support provided to the child.
The trial court denied Mother’s petition, finding as follows:
(1) the forfeiture statute, 20 Pa.C.S. § 2106(b), provides that a parent’s share may be forfeited “previous to the death of the parent’s minor or dependent child”; (2) the purpose of the statute is to protect minor or dependent children who are not legally competent to effectuate a will, In re Kistner, 858 A.2d 1226, 1228 (Pa. Super. 2004); (3) Decedent was 37 years old at the time of his death, was not a minor, and based on the evidence, was not a dependent child; (4) Decedent was never adjudicated an incapacitated person, declared incompetent, or appointed a guardian, (5) both Decedent’s parents and his girlfriend/caregiver testified he could do everything but walk; (6) Decedent had no mental impairment; (7) having a home health care aide and collecting disability does not make one a dependent child under the forfeiture statute; (8) as in Kistner, if Decedent believed Father failed to perform his duty to support him or had deserted him, he could have executed a last will and testament disposing of his estate accordingly; (9) Kistner’s analysis of the forfeiture statute relative to an adult decedent’s estate as opposed to a minor’s estate and its broad language is relative to and controlling in the instant case; (10) based on the evidence submitted, Decedent was not a dependent person; and (11) where the decedent is not a minor or dependent child at the time of his death, the forfeiture provisions of Section 2106(b) are inapplicable.
Slip. Op. at 3-4. Mother appealed to Superior Court arguing that the trial court erred when it concluded, against the weight of the evidence, that Charles was not a dependent child under the Forfeiture Statute, 20 Pa.C.S.A. § 2106(b). In support, Mother relied on 34 Pa. Code § 65.151, which defines a dependent child as an “individual’s unmarried child, stepchild, legally adopted child or illegitimate child, who at the beginning of the individual’s current benefit year, was wholly or chiefly supported by the individual and was 17 years of age or younger, or if 18 years of age or older, because of physical or mental infirmity was unable to engage in a gainful occupation.” Mother further argued that the orphans’ court’s rationale that Decedent “could have executed a last will and testament” does not apply here because Decedent had no assets and no reason to make a will.
Superior Court agreed with the trial court’s conclusion and analysis and further found that Mother’s reliance on the definition of “dependent child” in 34 Pa. Code § 65.151 “was misplaced as that provision applies to unemployment compensation.” Slip Op. at 4. Superior Court also found Mother’s argument that the orphans’ court’s rationale that Decedent “could have executed a last will and testament” does not apply here because Decedent had no assets and no reason to make a will was unpersuasive, explaining that the “issue of assets/reason to make a will is irrelevant; the issue is the protection of minor or dependent children who are not legally competent to make a will.” Id. (citations omitted).
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allocatur as to the following issue:
Pursuant to 20 Pa.C.S.A. § 2106(b)(1), is an adult decedent a “dependent child” where the decedent depended on the support of a parent in order to care for himself?