Special Reports

Gricar May Not Be Alive, Legally

            In February or March of 2010,1 I wrote a blog about the disappearance of former Centre County District Attorney Ray Gricar; it was titled “Gricar is Alive, Legally.”2  It dealt with Mr. Gricar’s legal status.  I said, “From a legal standpoint, Mr. Gricar is alive.  Reality might differ from legality.”  I also wrote, “So, basically, Mr. Gricar’s heirs, or others with an interest in the estate could have him declared dead at this point.” “This point” is today.  Mr. Gricar’s attorney, on behalf of his daughter, has filed a petition to have Mr. Gricar declared dead.3

            There is a statutory standard for declaring someone dead.  The statute reads:

When a person domiciled in the

     Commonwealth disappears and is absent from his place of

     residence without being heard of after diligent inquiry, the

     court of the county where he last resided, aided by the report

     of a master if necessary, upon the petition of any party in

     interest, and, if a trustee has been appointed for the absentee,

     at any time during the trusteeship, may make a finding and

     decree that the absentee is dead and of the date of his death,

     provided the notice required by section 5704 (relating to notice

     to absentee) has been given to the absentee. 4


Basically, a petitioner says “We have not heard the guy we’re trying to declare dead.  He hasn’t been home in a while.  We looked for him; we’re giving him notice that we’re doing this.  Judge, we’d like you to please declare him dead.”

            There are some psychological reasons to do, but the prime reason is financial.  An heir cannot inherit until the person is declared dead.  By declaring someone dead, his heirs can inherit.  This is the basic effect of a favorable ruling on any petition to declare someone dead.

            Declaring someone dead isn’t automatic; it is at the discretion of the judge, based on the law.  A judge can decide if the petition offered is enough to meet that statutory requirement or not.  He can do something else as well.  Statute provides:

        The court, on its own motion or upon the application of any

     party in interest, may direct the trustee to search for the

     absentee in any manner which the court shall deem appropriate,

     or may appoint a master, investigator or appropriate agency to

     do so. The expenses of such a search shall be paid out of the

     property of the absentee. 5


So, the judge has the discretion to say, do more to find him.

            Ultimately, what I wrote a few years ago about the legality of Mr. Gricar’s status of being alive is just as true as a presumed legal status of being dead, “Reality might differ from legality.”  Statute recognizes this as well; I’ve included the whole section, but note the bolded section:

     Upon the entry of a decree establishing the death of a person

     domiciled in the Commonwealth, based in whole or in part upon

     his absence from his place of residence, the real and personal

     property of the absentee shall be administered by his personal

     representative as in the case of other decedents. However, the

     personal representative shall make no distribution of such

     property to the persons entitled thereto by will or by

     intestacy, nor shall such persons acquire indefeasible title

     thereto, except under decree of court. The court, in awarding

     distribution, shall require that a refunding bond, with or

     without security and in such form and amount as the court shall

     direct, shall be executed by each distributee and filed with the

     clerk. The bond shall be conditioned that, if it shall later be

     established that the absentee was in fact alive at the time of

     distribution, the distributee upon demand will return the

     property received by him or, if it has been disposed of, will

     make such restitution therefor as the court shall deem

     equitable. Should a distributee not execute the bond, the court

     shall appoint a trustee to receive and hold his share until

     further order of the court. 6


The statute contemplates the court and ruling someone dead, legally, who is still alive, in reality.

            This process may shed some additional light on the Gricar case, with the potential for releasing new evidence and new facts about the case.  It may not conclude it.



1 This was first published in 2010, but was one of those lost in the transition and reposted about a year later.

End Notes

2   http://www.centredaily.com/2011/02/18/2529829/gricar-is-alive-legally.html

3 http://www.centredaily.com/2011/07/05/2817535/daughter-petitions-court-to-declare.html

4 http://law.onecle.com/pennsylvania/decedents-estates-and-fiduciaries/

5 http://law.onecle.com/pennsylvania/decedents-estates-and-fiduciaries/

6 http://law.onecle.com/pennsylvania/decedents-estates-and-fiduciaries/


Centre Daily Times Ray Gricar Section:  http://www.centredaily.com/138/

Link to the Main Index for Sporadic Comments on Ray Gricar:  http://www.centredaily.com/2011/03/21/2597340/main-index-32011.html

E-mail J. J. in Phila at scorg@live.com