A Northampton County judge has affirmed a decision that sisters of disgraced Lehigh Valley lawyer John Karoly Jr. failed to prove wills he submitted in his brother Peter Karoly's estate are forgeries. * * *
In a 31-page opinion Friday, President Judge F.P. Kimberly McFadden rejected criticism of retired Bucks County President Judge Isaac Garb's decision that the wills were authentic.
Garb, appointed as special master of the case, presided over a lengthy trial in 2011 and issued his ruling last August. Karoly's sisters asked McFadden to overturn it. * * *Since 2007, these will forgery cases and its progeny have twisted and turned, but now appear near resolution, based upon extensive fact findings and trial court review.
Garb said the sisters failed to establish "by clear, direct, precise, and convincing evidence" that the 2006 wills were "forged and therefore invalid."
Peter Karoly, a well-known medical malpractice lawyer, and his wife, dentist Lauren Angstadt, died in February 2007 when their private plane crashed on approach to a Massachusetts airport.
The Karolys' three sisters charged that John Karoly Jr. fraudulently created wills dated 2006 for the couple — a conclusion also reached by a 2008 federal grand jury that indicted him, his older son J.P. Karoly, and Dr. John Shane, who witnessed the documents. * * *
Referencing the "burden of proof" test applied to the facts presented by the contestants, the proceedings are instructive under established will contest principles.
However, the proceedings drew my attention because the United States Department of Justice became involved after an FBI investigation and federal grand jury findings derived from will forgery allegations. See: PA EE&F Law Blog postings Will Contest from Bethlehem, PA (04/10/07); Trusts & Estates ... and the FBI: Pt. I. (05/22/07); Trusts & Estates ... and the FBI: Pt. II (05/23/07); and Attorney in PA Indicted for Will Fraud (09/26/08). See also postings by Professor Gerry Beyer on his Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog: The FBI-Will Contest Interface (05/22/07); Lawyer fakes brother's will (09/28/08), and Judge upholds Karoly Wills (04/07/13).
The local articles reported alleged conduct and resulting charges as news. However, unless the recent trial court rulings are reversed on appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court or Supreme Court, the will contest allegations appear resolved in favor of the surviving brother, John Karoly.
This extended odyssey shows the depth, detail, and delay involved in will contests. The present status warns us against prejudgment or sensationalism during its progress.
In my prior posting on September 26, 2008, I pondered other possible effects of these proceedings:
To date, this case involves application of federal fraud and conspiracy laws, investigation by the FBI, examination & prosecution by the U.S. Attorney's Office, with anticipated resolution in a federal court.Although these cases remain very instructive, the collective federal and county court proceedings did not become such a "template" to insert federal laws into state probate matters. We still rely upon state laws and procedures for resolution of will contests. In these specific will contests, resolution appears nearly complete.
This case could become a template for future prosecution of other cases involving intentional fraud in the preparation of testamentary documents offered for probate or for claim.