Tuesday, March 12, 2013

In re Estate of Kuralt case brief

In re Estate of Kuralt case brief summary 2000 MT 359

SYNOPSIS: Appellant, the estate of the deceased, challenged the judgment of the District Court of the Fifth Judicial District, in and for the County of Madison (Montana). The trial court determined that a letter written by the deceased two weeks before his death expressed an intent to transfer property to appellee and the letter was a codicil to the deceased's formal will.

-Approximately 6 years after Kuralt married Suzanne Baird, he met Pat Shannon.
-From 1968 until 1997, Kuralt and Shannon enjoyed a long and intimate relationship.
-Kuralt financially supported Shannon and her children.
-In 1985, Shannon moved into a log cabin that Kuralt had built for the two of them in Montana. -Kuralt deeded his interest in the original 20-acre parcel of that cabin to Shannon during the last few months of his life.
-Kuralt supplied the purchase price for the 20-acre parcel.
-After the deed was filed, Shannon sent Kuralt, at his request, a blank buy-sell real estate form so that the remaining 90 acres along the Big Hole where the cabin was situated could be conveyed to Shannon in the same way.
- However, Kuralt became suddenly ill.
-Kuralt wrote a letter to Shannon in June of 1997 and enclosed two checks for $8,000 and $9,000.
-In the 1997 letter, Kuralt described his worsening medical condition and told Shannon that he would have an attorney visit him in the hospital to be sure that she would inherit the remainder of the Montana property.
-When Kuralt died, Shannon sought to probate the 1997 letter.

The court held that the record supported the district court's finding that the letter expressed the deceased's intent to effect a posthumous transfer of his property to appellee.

-That the deceased wrote the letter in extremis was supported by the fact that he died two weeks later. The use of the term "inherit" by the deceased reflected his intention to make a posthumous disposition of the property.
-The court agreed that the letter was a codicil to the deceased's formal will, as a matter of law, because it made a specific bequest of property and it did not purport to bequeath the entirety of the estate.

OUTCOME: The court affirmed the judgment. The district court properly concluded that the deceased's letter expressed an intent to transfer property posthumously and was a valid holographic codicil to the deceased's formal will.

In re Estate of Kuralt (Mont. 2002) [32 CB 245]: Decedent maintained residence in MT with mistress.  He wrote a letter bequeathing everything in MT to her, executed a will that didn’t mention this, inter vivos transferred some of the land to her, and then wrote her telling her he intended to have lawyer transfer rest of MT property to her.  He died before this happened.  Rule: The last letter was an effective holographic codicil to decedent’s formal will, with sufficient testamentary intent highlighted by the decedent’s use of the word inherit.
a.   A codicil is a testamentary instrument that amends, but doesn’t replace, a will.
5.   In states that also have dispensing power, an effective holographic will can be something as simple as a writing with containing author’s testamentary intent.

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