APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Sixteenth Judicial District, In and For the County of Fallon, Cause No. DP 09-10 Honorable Joe L. Hegel, Presiding Judge
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Justice Mike McGrath
Submitted on Briefs: November 28, 2012
Decided: December 18, 2012
Chief Justice Mike McGrath delivered the Opinion of the Court.
¶1 Leslie Afrank, Personal Representative of the Estate of Dennis Afrank, appeals from the District Court's order filed March 1, 2012, allowing Deborah Afrank's claim against the Estate. We reverse.
¶2 Leslie Afrank presents the issue for review which we restate as follows: whether the District Court properly allowed Deborah's claim against the Estate for one half of the debt on the motor home that she previously owned with Dennis Afrank as joint tenants with rights of survivorship.
PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND
¶3 Deborah Afrank is the surviving spouse of Dennis Afrank, who died suddenly in an accident in June 2009. Dennis is also survived by three children from a prior marriage, one of whom is the Personal Representative Leslie Afrank. Dennis' will was admitted to probate in July 2009. It divided his estate among Deborah and his sons; directed that the Personal Representative pay all of his just debts; and left to Deborah all of their jointly-owned vehicles and other property.
¶4 At the time of Dennis' death he and Deborah owned a motor home as joint tenants with the right of survivorship. There was an outstanding purchase money security interest on it of approximately $124,000. Dennis and Deborah both signed the loan document and it specifically provided that each of them was independently obligated for the full amount of the debt. Deborah filed a claim against the Estate for approximately $62,000, representing one-half of the outstanding debt on the motor home.
¶5 The Personal Representative denied Deborah's claim, and the issue was presented to the District Court. The District Court determined that there was no authority on the issue in Montana, and applied a "better reasoned" majority rule from other states. That common-law rule provides that "absent a special reason to hold otherwise, the decedent's estate has an equitable duty to pay its aliquot share of debts on jointly-held property held by the decedent's spouse and the decedent at death." The District Court held that the equitable outcome in this case was to allow Deborah's claim against the Estate for one half the debt on the motor home. The Personal Representative appeals.
¶6 At the request of this Court, the Business, Estates, Trusts, Tax and Real Property Section of the State Bar of Montana submitted a brief as amicus curiae. The ...