In Re Kelsey Lauren Miller, No. 9 WAP 2010 (September 29, 2011)
Miller, a child under 14 years of age, was named sole beneficiary of her father’s life insurance policy valued at $356,000.
After Miller’s father died, his sister, who served as administratrix of his estate, petitioned the Beaver County Court of Common Pleas Orphans’ Court as Miller’s “next friend” to appoint her own attorney as the guardian of the child’s estate. Her petition did not include Miller’s mother’s consent or reason why she did not consent as required by Pennsylvania Orphans’ Court Rule 12.5 (b)(3).
Despite Mother’s objections, the court appointed this attorney as limited guardian and directed that the child’s funds be placed into a trust. The petition contained the proposed irrevocable trust agreement in which the attorney was the settlor, Father’s sister was named “Family Trustee,” and a bank was designated “Corporate Trustee.”
Mother appealed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, which agreed with the trial court that she lacked standing. She then appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court examined and reaffirmed its 1853 decision in Senseman’s Appeal, a case with a similar fact pattern in which the Court found that a “father had a right to be heard in matters related to an appointment of a limited guardian for his child.” The Court also addressed its 1889 decision in Appeal of Corwin, which held that a petition for the appointment of a guardian for a minor child should not be presented without notice to the parent.
The Court found the express requirements of Orphans’ Court Rule 12.5 consistent with these longstanding cases and contemplated a parent’s involvement and participation in such judicial proceedings.
Turning to the principles of standing, the Court explained that a person has standing only if he is aggrieved, which is demonstrated by showing “a substantial, direct and immediate interest in the proceedings.”
Concluding that Mother met all the requirements for standing, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court remanded the case to the Pennsylvania Superior Court.