from the District Court of Bowman County, Southwest Judicial
District, the Honorable William A. Herauf, Judge.
D. Ramsey, Dickinson, ND, for petitioner and appellee.
L. Selinger (argued) and Bruce A. Selinger (appeared),
Dickinson, ND, for respondent and appellee. Aaron W.
Roseland, Hettinger, ND, for respondent and appellant.
VANDEWALLE, CHIEF JUSTICE.
1] Elda McKeown appealed from a judgment ordering the
distribution of Margie Eagon's estate to McKeown and her
nine siblings. Because the district court did not err in
interpreting the will or the probate code, its findings
regarding the use of life insurance proceeds are not clearly
erroneous, and it did not abuse its discretion in awarding
attorney fees, we affirm.
2] Margie Eagon died in 2011 and one of her ten children,
Ronald Eagon, was appointed personal representative of her
estate, which was valued at more than $6 million. Elda
McKeown, a daughter, received $2 million in a joint bank
account she held with her mother, and under her mother's
will would receive more than one-half of the estate. The
other nine siblings would share the remainder of the estate.
When the personal representative sought to close the estate,
several of Margie Eagon's children objected to the
proposed distribution. They argued the proposed distribution
would reduce their inheritances but leave the inheritances of
McKeown and Ronald Eagon intact.
3] Following a trial, the district court determined that
under the terms of the will the federal estate tax liability
of $403, 956 should be apportioned among all persons
interested in the estate under N.D.C.C. § 30.1-20-16(2)
(U.P.C. § 3-916) rather than abated under N.D.C.C.
§ 30.1-20-02 (U.P.C. § 3-902). The court found the
proceeds of two $100, 000 life insurance policies naming
McKeown and Ronald Eagon as the beneficiaries should be used
to reduce the estate tax liability. The court also awarded
the parties who objected to the proposed distribution of the
estate their reasonable costs and attorney fees in the amount
of $23, 549.26.
4] McKeown argues the district court erred in apportioning
the federal estate taxes under N.D.C.C. § 30.1-20-16(2)
(U.P.C. § 3-916) rather than abating the estate taxes
under N.D.C.C. § 30.1-20-02 (U.P.C. § 3-902),
because Margie Eagon's will contained a directive for a
method of apportionment different than the method provided by
the apportionment statute.
5] "The purpose in construing a will is to ascertain the
testator's intent as it appears from a full and complete
consideration of the will when read in light of the
surrounding circumstances." Estate of Johnson,
501 N.W.2d 342, 345 (N.D. 1993). If a will provision is
unambiguous, the construction of a will is a question of law
fully reviewable on appeal. See id.; Estate of
Klein, 434 N.W.2d 560, 561 (N.D. 1989). "Statutes
are interpreted as a whole and are harmonized to give meaning
to related provisions." Estate of Johnson, 2015
ND 110, ¶ 12, 863 N.W.2d 215; see also N.D.C.C.
§ 1-02-07. "Statutory interpretation is a question
of law, fully reviewable on appeal." Johnson,
at ¶ 12.
6] Section 30.1-20-16(2), N.D.C.C. (U.P.C. § 3-916),
generally provides for apportioning federal estate taxes and
other estate taxes between beneficiaries of an estate:
Unless the will otherwise provides, the tax shall be
apportioned among all persons interested in the estate. The
apportionment is to be made in the proportion that the value
of the interest of each person interested in the estate bears
to the total value of the interests of all persons interested
in the estate. The values used in determining the tax are to
be used for that purpose. If the decedent's will directs
a method of apportionment of tax different from the method
described in this title, the method described in the will
argues Margie Eagon's will "otherwise provides"
for a different method of apportionment because a boilerplate
provision of the will states: "I direct my personal
representative to pay all just debts and claims against my
estate, including but not limited to costs of last illness,
funeral expenses, federal and state taxes, and ...