Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Will Contest in Lancaster County, PA

On January 11, 2009, the Lancaster Sunday News published an extensive article entitled "Contested will is one for books" by Gil Smart, Associate Editor regarding a high-profile will contest underway in Lancaster County, PA.

He reported that a retired Lancaster County judge is challenging his late son’s bequest of potentially
$500,000-$900,000 made to the Lancaster Public Library under a Last Will executed approximately five years before his death in July, 2008.

Thomas Bucher was found in his Columbia apartment July 20, [2008], dead of a gunshot wound. His death, ruled a suicide, was a family tragedy.

Now, nearly six months later, his father, a retired Lancaster County senior judge, is in the midst of a tug-of-war over Thomas Bucher's estate, which could total $900,000 and was bequeathed not to Bucher family members — but to the Lancaster Public Library.

Wilson Bucher — a former district attorney who later served on the Lancaster County bench as judge for more than 30 years — has challenged his son's will in orphan's court, saying that Thomas Bucher was under an "insane delusion" when he revised his will in 2003 to disinherit members of his family, and give everything to the library. * * *
The obituary regarding Thomas W. Bucher (still available on Lancaster Online) did not give any indication about the manner of death at the age of 59, which occurred "unexpectedly." It noted that he was employed as "a Supervisor with the Impaired Driver's Unit of the Probation and Parole Office, Court of Common Pleas of Lancaster County" and was scheduled to retire soon. It listed his father and two sisters as closest survivors. Memorial contributions in Tom's memory were designated to Hospice of Lancaster County.

On August 26, 2008, Minutes of a regular meeting held August 26, 2008, of the Board of Directors of the Lancaster Public Library (PDF, 2 pages) noted the potential interest created by the probated Last Will of Thomas W. Bucher, deceased:
Bucher Estate – Mrs. [Karen Haley] Field reported that the will of Thomas W. Bucher names LPL as executor and sole beneficiary of his estate.

LPL’s attorney, Appel & Yost, advised that the Library is
ineligible to serve as Executor, therefore Board members signed a Resolution appointing Mrs. Field as administrator.

The Bucher family has filed an appeal. The value of this estate is not yet
known. * * *
On January 4, 2009, the NewsLanc Blog reported about that appeal to probate in an entry entitled "Former Judge accuses deceased son of "insane delusion"; contests bequest to Lancaster Public Library."
According to a Petition No. 36-2008-1522, recorded in the Lancaster Court of Common Pleas on August 21, former County Judge Wilson Bucher is contesting the estate of his deceased son, Thomas W. Bucher, who died in July, 2008.

Five years prior to his demise, Thomas Bucher signed a Will that states "I give the residue of my estate, real and personal, to the Lancaster County Library, Lancaster, Pennsylvania."

The library has subsequently changed its name to the Lancaster Public Library. It is located at 125 N. Duke Street in the City.

The estate is anticipated to be in the amount of $500,000.

Judge Bucher contends his son Thomas "was suffering from an insane delusion caused by a mental condition that was initially diagnosed in 1975 and from which he suffered for the remainder of his life… The aforementioned insane delusion was that his immediate family was conspiring to divert his legacy under a will by a related aunt by marriage that was being probated at the time decedent’s probated will was executed…. Moreover, the scrivener of decedent’s will, Attorney Theodore Brubaker, confirmed to the undersigned counsel that the decedent initially approached him the insane delusion that his family was stealing from him." * * *
That same local opinion and commentary blog reported further, on January 12, 2009, in an entry entitled "Despite $500,000 bequest, Library Trustees canceled project" that:
When in November the Board of Trustees of the Lancaster Public Library (125 N. Duke Street) abandoned $1.6 in grants and expenditures and canceled plans to upgrade and renovate, they were aware that they had recently received a windfall bequest of over $500,000 from the Thomas Bucher Estate that could have been applied to the $1.1 to $1.3 million to complete the project. * * *
The January 11th Lancaster Sunday News article noted another twist -- participation by the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office, Charitable Trusts & Organizations Section, on behalf of the Library as a charitable residuary beneficiary.
Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office has gotten involved, filing a motion to have Steven R. Blair disqualified as Wilson Bucher's attorney because Blair may wind up being called as a witness.

Blair * * * has fought the attempt to remove him. In court documents, he notes that his father-in-law is 88 years old, with significant health problems, and that forcing him to get another attorney "would work a substantial hardship" upon the retired judge.

Reached last week, Blair declined to comment on the record, except to note that the Perry County judge, Joseph Rehkamp, must first rule on whether he can continue to represent Wilson Bucher before the challenge to the will can proceed. * * *
That last reference raises another quirk in the case -- the self-recusal of Lancaster County Orphans' Court Division Judge Jay Hoberg from hearing the matter.
Because of Wilson Bucher's history on the Lancaster County bench, county Judge Jay Hoberg recused himself.

A judge from Perry County will be brought in to decide the case. * * *
This unusual case, and the headline article reporting it, were summarized by Attorney Patti Spencer on her Pennsylvania Fiduciary Litigation blog in an entry entitled "Insane Delusion in Lancaster County" posted on January 11, 2009, where she also quoted sources on applicable principles of law.

Due to the setting of a death, a subsequent demand to alter a dispositive scheme, and the need for a vigorous defense, will contests are never pleasant or easy. Such Orphans' Court pugilism naturally results in pain for participants, win or lose.