Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Summary 2014 WY 29

Summary of Decision February 25, 2014

Justice Davis delivered the opinion of the Court. Affirmed.

Case Name: THE ESTATE OF H. KENT DAHLKE, by and through its Personal Representative Susan M. Jubie, Appellant (Plaintiff), and THE ESTATE OF SARA WESTERBERG DAHLKE, by and through its Personal Representative Susan M. Jubie, and SUSAN M. JUBIE, individually, Appellants (Defendants) v. JAY H. DAHLKE, KURT M. DAHLKE, HEARTHSIDE CARE CENTER, UMPQUA HOMES FOR THE HANDICAPPED, and M. SCOTT McCOLLOCH, Appellees (Defendants)

Docket Number: S-13-0077

URL: http://www.courts.state.wy.us/Opinions.aspx

Appeal from the District Court of Big Horn County, the Honorable John G. Fenn, Judge

Representing Appellants: Eldon E. Silverman, Esq., of Preeo Silverman Green & Egle, P.C., Denver, Colorado; Randy L. Royal, Esq., Greybull, Wyoming

Representing Appellees Jay H. Dahlke and Kurt M. Dahlke: Edward G. Luhm, Esq., Worland, Wyoming

Representing Appellees Umpqua Homes for the Handicapped and Hearthside Care Center: Laurence Stinson, Stinson Law Group, P.C., Cody, Wyoming

Representing M. Scott McColloch: No appearance

Date of Decision: February 25, 2014

Facts: The Estate of J. Kent Dahlke included a checking account he held jointly with his surviving wife Sara Dahlke. There were irregularities in the administration of the estate, including failure to assure that the heirs waived a hearing on a decree of distribution, and failure to advise Sara Dahlke of her statutory elective share. Sara served as the personal representative of Kent’s estate. After Sara died, her daughter Susan Jubie, acting as the subsequent personal representative of Kent’s estate, the personal representative of Sara’s estate, and individually, sought to set aside the decree of distribution of Kent’s estate five years after it was entered and its assets were distributed to the devisees. The district court denied the requested relief.

Issues: 1) Was the decree of distribution interlocutory and therefore subject to being set aside or revised because the personal representative was never discharged and the estate was never closed? 2) Was the decree of distribution void under Wyoming Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(4) due to irregularities in the probate proceeding, including failure to obtain waivers of hearing and failure to advise the surviving spouse of a statutory right to an elective share? 3) Did the district court err in failing to set the decree aside because of fraud on the court or exceptional circumstances under Wyoming Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(6)? 4) Did the existence of a possible malpractice claim against the estate’s attorney prevent the district court from setting the decree of distribution aside?

Holdings/Conclusion: Our system of justice is generally adversarial in nature, and procedural errors tend to be soon discovered due to the parties’ enlightened self-interests. Probate administration, on the other hand, is often not adversarial, and the probate court therefore has a significant role in assuring that the decedent’s intent or the requirements of our statute of descent and distribution are carried out efficiently, honestly, and with appropriate notice. It is difficult for a judge to anticipate unfairness or detect procedural errors when no one complains about a proposed action. The probate process went awry in this case, but the law governing finality of judgments requires that the decree of distribution stand. We therefore affirm the district court’s summary judgment in favor of Appellees.

Summaries are prepared by Law Librarians and are not official statements of the Wyoming Supreme Court.

[SPECIAL NOTE: This opinion uses the "Universal Citation." It was given an "official" citation when it was issued. You should use this citation whenever you cite the opinion, with a P.3d parallel citation. You will also note, when you look at the opinion, that all of the paragraphs are numbered. When you need to provide a pinpoint citation to a quotation, the universal portion of the citation will use that paragraph number. The pinpoint citation in the P.3d portion will need to have the reporter page number. If you need assistance in putting together a citation from this, or any future opinion using the Universal Citation form, please contact the Wyoming State Law Library and we will provide any needed assistance.]

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