In re Estate of Goick

275 Mont. 13, 909 P.2d 1165 (1996)

 

RULE:

A surviving spouse has priority for appointment over the decedent's other heirs, the public administrator, and any creditor.

One is not equitably estopped from claiming one's status as a surviving spouse in the absence of any evidence that a decedent acted to his detriment even if the surviving spouse is found to have intentionally misrepresented the facts concerning the status of the divorce.

FACTS:

After the death of her husband, a woman filed a petition for adjudication of intestacy, determination of heirs, and appointment of personal representative. In the petition, she claimed she was the surviving spouse and was entitled to an appointment as personal representative. The decedent's mother and two siblings filed an objection to the petition, claiming the woman was not the surviving spouse, but rather the ex-wife of the decedent, in that she and decedent had been divorced in the months before his death. Decedent's mother further argued that the woman was estopped from claiming she and decedent were not divorced. Subsequently, attorneys for the parties reached an oral settlement agreement on the telephone, which was never written or signed by the parties. The decedent's relatives by blood filed a motion to compel a settlement, claiming that a binding agreement had been reached in the telephone conference. Later, a distribution agreement was entered into between the woman and the couple's minor children through their guardian ad litem as the only potential heirs of the decedent. A notice of the distribution agreement was filed, which was also objected to by the decedent's mother and siblings. The district court issued an order denying the motion to compel settlement, and then, granted the woman's motion for summary judgment on the issue of her status as a surviving spouse, approved the distribution agreement, and appointed the woman as a supervised personal representative. The decedent's mother and siblings appealed.

ISSUE:

Did the district court err in denying the motion to compel settlement of the case?

Was the surviving spouse equitably estopped from claiming they she and decedent were not divorced?

ANSWER:

No. The oral settlement agreement reached on the telephone was not binding. No. The record was clear that no divorce decree or order was ever issued

CONCLUSION:

The court affirmed the decision of the district court, which granted summary judgment in favor of the woman, appointed her as a supervised personal representative, approved the distribution agreement entered into between herself and her minor children, and denied the motion from decedent's mother and siblings to compel settlement of the decedent's estate.

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