Estate of Quirin

Estate of Quirin, 2015 MT 132 (May 19, 2015) (Wheat, J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: (1) Whether the district court properly confirmed probate of the 2010 will; and (2) whether the district court erred by issuing an order inconsistent with the pretrial order.

Short Answer: (1) Yes, and (2) no.

Affirmed

Facts: Violet Quirin died on Jan. 10, 2011, and was survived by two adult daughters, Mavoureen Speiser and Cathie Schmiedeke. Quirin executed three wills – on Nov. 16, 2005, March 1, 2007, and June 23, 2010. In the first two wills, Quirin divided her property equally between her daughters, but in the 2010 will she gave them nothing, instead dividing her estate among friends and charitable organizations.

Quirin drafted the 2010 will with attorney Nancy Moe. Quirin told Moe that she no longer wanted her daughters to benefit from her estate. Moe advised Quirin that the will would likely be contested from such a change, but Quirin persisted, saying she and her daughters were not close.

Moe drafted a new will based on her discussion with Quirin, in which Quirin left her house to her church, the money in her bank account to Missoula Aging Services, and certain personal property to several friends. Quirin also told Moe she had given her friend Kristine Fankell $100,000 to use for Quirin’s benefit, and that she wanted Fankell to keep any portion that was unused at the time of Quirin’s death.

When Fankell visited Quirin several months later, Quirin told her about the will, and told Fankell she would be the PR.

Following Quirin’s death, Fankell submitted the 2010 will for informal probate and asked to be appointed PR. The clerk granted the requests. In May 2011, Speiser petitioned for formal probate of the 2007 will, claiming Quirin lacked testamentary capacity when she made the 2010 will. 

Procedural Posture & Holding: The matter went to trial, after which the district court held that Speiser failed to show Quirin lacked testamentary capacity, and confirmed probate of the 2010 will. Speiser appeals, and the Supreme Court affirms.

Reasoning: (1) Once a duly executed will is submitted for probate, the testator’s competence is presumed, and contestants bear the burden of proving lack of testamentary capacity. “[T]estamentary capacity requires that the testator be aware of three elements: (1) the nature of the act to be performed, (2) the nature and the extent of the property to be disposed of, and (3) the objects of his or her bounty.” ¶ 14. Because the district court based its finding of testamentary capacity on Quirin’s awareness of these elements, it did not err. Its findings were supported by substantial evidence, the effect of which the district court did not misapprehend.

(2) Speiser contends the district court applied a different legal standard for testamentary capacity that the one specified in the pretrial order, and did not rule on all of the factual issues identified in the pretrial order. The district court applied the Lightfield standard, which was quoted in the pretrial order. Additionally, this Court has never required district courts to address every factual issue identified in the pretrial order and declines to do so now.