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In re Estate of Hall

Supreme Court of North Dakota

July 18, 2019

In the Matter of the Estate of Kandi Ann Hall, Deceased
v.
Brianna McLaen, Respondent and Appellant Tyson Hall, Personal Representative of the Estate of Kandi Ann Hall, Petitioner and Appellee and Brittany Fiala, Shayla Fiala, and W.H., Respondents

          Appeal from the District Court of Sargent County, Southeast Judicial District, the Honorable Mark T. Blumer, Judge.

          John D. Bullis (argued) and Brittany L. Hatting (on brief), Wahpeton, N.D., for petitioner and appellee.

          Ronald H. McLean (argued) and Ian McLean (on brief), Fargo, N.D., for respondent and appellant.

          OPINION

          TUFTE, JUSTICE.

         [¶1] Brianna McLaen appeals from an order granting Tyson Hall's petition for an elective share of the Estate of Kandi Ann Hall. McLaen argues the district court erred by determining Tyson Hall could claim an elective share of Kandi Hall's intestate estate and by deciding a warranty deed for certain real property was void. We conclude a surviving spouse may claim an elective share of an intestate estate under N.D.C.C. § 30.1-05-01, but the court erred in determining ownership of the real property. We reverse and remand.

         I

         [¶2] Kandi and Tyson Hall were married on May 23, 2013. They have one minor child together. Kandi Hall also has three adult children unrelated to Tyson Hall, including McLaen. Kandi Hall died intestate on February 10, 2018.

         [¶3] At the time of Kandi Hall's death, she owned real property described as "Lots 12 and 13 and the South 10 feet of Lot 14, all in Block 34, First Addition to the City of Forman, Sargent County, North Dakota." She initially acquired an undivided one-fourth interest in the property by a July 18, 2012, Personal Representative's Deed of Distribution. Kandi Hall's three sisters held the remaining three-fourths interest. She later purchased her sisters' interests in the property. Kandi Hall and her three sisters executed a warranty deed transferring their interests in the property to Kandi Hall and McLaen "as joint tenants and not as tenants in common." The deed was executed by Kandi as "a single woman." Each of Kandi's sisters was joined in executing the deed by her husband. Kandi and Tyson Hall were residing in a house on the property at the time of her death in February 2018.

         [¶4] In April 2018, Tyson Hall was appointed personal representative of Kandi Hall's intestate estate. In June 2018, Tyson Hall petitioned for an elective share of the augmented estate under N.D.C.C. ch. 30.1-05. Tyson Hall argued Kandi Hall owned property worth $62, 468.10 at the time of her death, including the real property. He also argued the 2013 warranty deed transferring the real property to Kandi Hall and McLaen as joint tenants was void because he was married to Kandi Hall at the time the deed was executed, he did not join in the deed or consent to the conveyance, and a homestead in North Dakota cannot be transferred without the signatures of both the husband and wife under N.D.C.C. § 47-18-05. He claimed he is entitled to an elective share of the augmented estate as a surviving spouse under N.D.C.C. ch. 30.1-05, the entire value of the real property must be included in the augmented estate because the deed is void, and he should be awarded all of the estate's assets because they are worth less than the amount of the elective share.

         [¶5] McLaen opposed the petition. McLaen argued Tyson Hall's inventory of the estate's assets failed to account for various assets, the deed transferring the property to Kandi Hall and McLaen was not void, and Tyson Hall already received more than his elective share of the estate. She requested the court recognize her as the rightful owner of the real property pursuant to the recorded deed and award her the costs she incurred to preserve the property from tax foreclosure.

         [¶6] After a hearing, the district court granted Tyson Hall's petition for an elective share of Kandi Hall's augmented estate. The court found Tyson Hall, as surviving spouse, had a right of election to take an elective share amount of the augmented estate, any attempt to transfer the real property into joint tenancy with McLaen was void because Tyson Hall did not join in the conveyance, the entire value of the real property must be included in the augmented estate, and Tyson Hall was entitled to distribution of all of the identified assets to satisfy the elective share. The court ordered McLaen divested of her interest as a joint tenant in the real property and be required to issue a quit claim deed transferring the property to the estate's personal representative.

         II

         [¶7] McLaen argues the district court erred by determining Tyson Hall could claim an elective share of Kandi Hall's intestate estate under N.D.C.C. ch. 30.1-05 because an elective share may be taken by a surviving spouse only if there is a will. She contends the purpose of an elective share is not served by applying it in an intestate proceeding because the elective share is to protect a spouse from being disinherited under a will.

         [¶8] The interpretation of a statute is a question of law, which is fully reviewable on appeal. In re Estate of Johnson, 2015 ND 110, ¶ 12, 863 N.W.2d 215. Our primary objective in interpreting a statute is to determine the intent of the legislation, as expressed in its statutory language. In re Estate of Brandt, 2019 ND 87, ¶ 13, 924 N.W.2d 762. Words are given their plain, ordinary, and commonly understood meaning, unless they are specifically defined or contrary intention plainly appears. N.D.C.C. § 1-02-02. Statutes are construed as a whole and harmonized to give meaning to related provisions. N.D.C.C. § 1-02-07; Brandt, at ΒΆ 13. We interpret statutes to give effect to all of their provisions. ...


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