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In re Estate of Elliot

Supreme Court of Montana

July 10, 2018

IN THE MATTER OF THE ESTATE OF: ADA ELLIOT, Deceased.

          Submitted on Briefs: April 18, 2018

          APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Thirteenth Judicial District, In and For the County of Yellowstone, Cause No. DP 17-36 Honorable Ingrid G. Gustafson, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: Ian Elliot, self-represented, Billings, Montana

          For Appellee: James C. Reuss, Guthals, Hunnes & Reuss, P.C., Billings, Montana

          OPINION

          DIRK M. SANDEFUR JUSTICE

         ¶1 Pursuant to Section I, Paragraph 3(c) of our Internal Operating Rules, we decide this case by memorandum opinion, which shall not be cited and does not serve as precedent. In the opinion of the Court, the case presents a question controlled by settled law or by the clear application of applicable standards of review. The case title, cause number, and disposition shall be included in this Court's quarterly list of non-citable cases published in the Pacific Reporter and Montana Reports.

         ¶2 Ada E. Elliot (Ada) died on January 28, 2017, at the age of 91. Ada's will designated her daughter Cynthia Elliot (Cynthia) and her son Ian Elliot (Ian) as co-personal representatives and bequeathed the estate equally between the two siblings. Ian filed a petition for probate and appointment as personal representative in the Montana Thirteenth Judicial District Court, Yellowstone County, on February 13, 2017. Cynthia objected to Ian's appointment and filed a motion for the appointment of a special administrator for the Elliot Estate. Following a June 12, 2017 hearing on the matter, the District Court denied Ian's application for appointment as personal representative and granted Cynthia's petition. Ian, appearing pro se on appeal, challenges the appointment of a special administrator.

         ¶3 The district court's findings of fact related to the appointment of an executor must be based on substantial evidence. In re Estate of Graf, 150 Mont. 577, 580, 437 P.2d 371, 372 (1968). We review a district court's appointment of a personal representative to determine whether the court correctly interpreted the law. In re Estate of Edwards, 2017 MT 93, ¶ 15, 387 Mont. 274, 393 P.3d 639 (citing In re Estate of McMurchie, 2004 MT 98, ¶ 7, 321 Mont. 21, 89 P.3d 18). A district court may appoint a special administrator "on the petition of any interested person and finding, after notice and hearing, that appointment is necessary to preserve the estate or to secure its proper administration, including its administration in circumstances where a general personal representative cannot or should not act." Section 72-3-701(2), MCA.

         ¶4 The Elliot Estate consists primarily of the deceased's majority interest in StarFire, LP (StarFire), a limited partnership organized for the purpose of holding valuable Gallatin Valley real estate. Cynthia and Ian held minority interests in StarFire. By her will, Ada bequeathed her ownership interest in StarFire to Cynthia and Ian in equal shares.

         ¶5 The siblings' relationship deteriorated during their mother's final years when disputes arose regarding the mother's care and management of StarFire. In 2010, Ian removed his mother from the facility where she had been placed by Cynthia, and brought Ada to his home where she lived until her death. In October 2014, Cynthia initiated legal action on behalf of StarFire in the Montana Eighteenth Judicial District Court, Gallatin County, seeking the removal of Ian as a general partner.[1] One year later, in October 2015, Ian, in his capacity as a general partner of StarFire and guardian of Ada Elliot, sued Cynthia in U.S. District Court for damages primarily related to Cynthia's alleged mismanagement of StarFire.[2] The legal actions initiated by the siblings against one another remained pending at the time of proceedings related to the administration of the Elliot Estate.

         ¶6 The District Court's June 13, 2017 order noted:

Ian asserts . . . the sole conflict is between [him] and Cynthia, not [him] and Ada's estate. Cynthia asserts a special administrator should be appointed as she does not believe she and Ian are able to work together as too much distrust has developed.
Although the primary conflict is between Ian and Cindy, the Court is concerned Ian will let this conflict impair his decision making with regard to the estate such that he would not act on behalf of the estate.

         The District Court determined that ongoing litigation and other conflicts between the siblings raised sufficient concerns regarding Ian's ability to put aside his personal motivations and act on behalf of the Estate to warrant denial of Ian's petition for appointment. In ordering the appointment of a special administrator for the Elliot Estate, the court specifically limited the administrator's authority to preclude the Estate from paying or settling any creditor claims with a direct nexus to ...


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