A challenge to an estate valued at over a million dollar that was bequeathed to the Lancaster County Public Library (Duke Street) was dismissed by Orphan’s Court after almost two years of litigation.
Upon retirement as a supervisor after 22 years of service in the Lancaster County Office of Probation and Parole, Thomas W. Bucher, 59, took his life on or about July 20, 2008. He was the eldest of three children of the late Christine Bucher and the Honorable Wilson Bucher.
Thomas was a bachelor without children. Five years before his death he decided to bequeath his estate to the Lancaster Public Library (Duke Street.)
Thomas’ brother-in-law, attorney Steven R. Blair, with the consent of the aging retired Judge Bucher, brought a petition before the Court asking that Thomas’ will be set aside on the grounds that Thomas was suffering from an “insane delusion.” This was despite the fact that the will was in effect for over five years and that Thomas was gainfully and successfully employed during the entire duration.
Thomas was never diagnosed or treated for mental illness during his entire life.
According to the court record, “As for Thomas’ work record, Sueprvisor Bruce Campbell testified that there was not a single blemish on his record and that Thomas always received satisfactory annual evaluations. Campbell did testify that Thomas was idiosyncratic or ‘quirky’ at times.”
The record continues, “Thomas believed that he was entitled to $100,000 from the estate [of his late aunt Helen Bucher] and had received far less. He also believed that money was stolen from the estate and suggested his brother-in-law, Atty. Blair, might be implicated…. After the March 17 meeting, Atty.[Thomas] Brubaker conducted a review of the Helen Brubaker estate as it was probated in the Office of Register of wills and found no obvious discrepancies.”
Brubaker testified “My recollection of the meetings with Tom was that he had concerns. He did not adamantly insist that any of these were fact.” The court record continues “Although Thomas acknowledged having extended family, since he was unmarried and without children, Atty. Brubaker considered the choice of a charity to be a ‘logical beneficiary.’”
The record indicated “In making his case at the trial in November 2009, counsel for Judge Bucher [Blair] proceeded to chronicle a series of incidents in Thomas’ life that, he argued, suggests a history of delusional behavior. Numerous objections were raised by the Library to the evidence, primarily on the basis of relevance and hearsay.”
On the pivotal accusation that Thomas suffered from an “insane delusion” when he made out his will in 2003, the report stated “…we are unable to find as fact that Thomas was mentally ill or per se insane at the time he executed his 2003 Will.”
After the trial ended, the case passed from president Judge C. Joseph Rehkamp to Senior judge Joseph H. Kleinfelter and both parties stipulated that a re-hearing would not be required.
An opinion by Senior judge Joseph H. Kleinfelter “dismissed and denied” the contention of the family of Judge Bucher , finding on behalf of the Public Library.
The opinion cites a decision in which the Pennsylvania Supreme Court cautioned: “The doctrine of insane delusion is at best a dangerous one and should not be extended beyond its present limitations and clearly defined coundaries. The Courts, recognizing this danger, have stsrictly limited, circumscribed and restricted the doctrine and in over 100 years have applied it less than six times.”
Since Judge Bucher is retired from the Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas, the circumstance prompted recusal by the present bench, and the special appointment of Judge Rehkamp.
The State Attorney General’s office monitored the proceedings to assure that the Library was properly represented since it is a public charity.
Robert Hallinger, Esquire of Appel & Yost, represented the Library.
Blair represented himself and Judge Bucher.