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Citation. Kimmel’s Estate, 278 Pa. 435, 123 A. 405, 31 A.L.R. 678 (Pa. 1924)
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Brief Fact Summary.

Harry A. Kimmel wrote a letter to his sons discussing the affairs of his life and disposing of a certain amount of property in the case that a particular event occurred. Kimmel died the same day that he wrote the letter. Kimmel’s heirs at law appeal a decision by the register of wills court admitting the letter to probate.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

A document that is a formal will is testamentary in character and may be admitted to probate if the attenuating circumstances before and at the time of the testator’s death, along with the wording of the will, express the intent to make a gift of property at death.


Kimmel wrote a letter on the morning of his death to his sons and family. He discussed the bad weather and his desire to write a second letter. However he expressed doubt that the letter would ever be made. He then wrote, “if enny thing happens,” and stated that specific property should go to his two children George and Irvin. Kimmel mailed this letter to George and Irvin on the same day. Kimmel was sick and unemployed when he wrote the letter. A decree of the orphan’s court directed the register of wills to probate the will. Kimmel’s heirs at law appeal the decision.


Whether a letter is testamentary in character even though it is not in the form of a formal will, if its purpose is to make a gift at death.

Whether a holographic will may be admitted to probate if the signature on the document is not the testator’s specific name?


Yes. The form of a document is only one element in determining the testamentary character of document. A document is testamentary in character where it expresses intent make a gift at death. Here, (1) the testator disposed of property on the condition of an even occurring, (2) the event that occured was the testator’s death, (3) the testator was sick at the time of writing the letter, and (4) the testator sent the letter to his beneficiaries and instructed them to preserve the letter.

Yes. A holographic will may be probated where the testator writes a name or word other than his specific name if the evidence shows that in light of the nature of the document, the testator intended the writing to be his signature. Here, the evidence showed that the testator wrote several letters and signed them with the word, “Father.”


A document has testamentary intent when the circumstances along with the wording of the will show he intended to dispose of the property in the event that he died. The circumstances must strongly suggest that the testator was making a disposition of property in the case that his death occurred.

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