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Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Monday, April 6, 2009

Her Own Private Idaho: Supreme Court Of Idaho Applies State Of Mind Exception To Omitted Spouse Appeal

Federal Rule of Evidence 803(3) provides an exception to the rule against hearsay for

A statement of the declarant's then existing state of mind, emotion, sensation, or physical condition (such as intent, plan, motive, design, mental feeling, pain, and bodily health), but not including a statement of memory or belief to prove the fact remembered or believed unless it relates to the execution, revocation, identification, or terms of declarant's will. 

Prior to last week, I had never seen a court apply the last clause of Federal Rule of Evidence 803(3) or a state counterpart. That all changed, however, with the recent opinion of the Supreme Court of Idaho in In re Estate of Montgomery, 2009 863105 (Idaho 2009). 

In Montgomery, Jim Montgomery was married and the father of two sons when he met Nancy Montgomery in late 1986. Jim later divorced his wife in November 1987. On July 5, 1990, Jim executed a will in which he bequeathed a house to Nancy and left his remaining property to his sons in equal shares.  Jim and Nancy subsequently married on October 17, 1991 and remained married until his death on December 2, 2003.  Before Jim's death, he sold the house but never changed his will. When Jim's will was admitted to probate, Nancy thus, inter alia, filed a petition in the probate proceedings seeking an intestate share of Jim's estate as an omitted spouse.

One of Jim's sons opposed Nancy's petition, both sides moved for summary judgment, and both sides raised various evidentiary objections to materials submitted in connection with the cross-motions for summary judgment. Rather than explicitly decide the evidentiary issues, the magistrate judge decided to give the evidence "whatever weight" ge determined to be appropriate. The magistrate judge then granted summary judgment against Nancy, and the district judge affirmed. 

Nancy's appeal eventually reached the Supreme Court of Idaho, which properly held that the magistrate judge acted improperly.  And in reversing in remanding, the Idaho Supremes noted that a certain category of evidence submitted by Nancy would be admissible.  That evidence consisted of proposed witness testimony concerning Jim's statements about the effect of his marriage to Nancy on his will. According to Nancy, these witnesses would testify that Jim indicated that

-his marriage voided his will;

-one of his sons, who was a devisee in his will, would never inherit one cent from him because of his spendthrift habits, drug addiction, and jail time; and

-"Nancy would inherit everything he owned."

In finding this proposed testimony to be admissible, the Supreme Court of Idaho relied upon Idaho Rule of Evidence 803(3), which, like its federal counterpart, provides an exception to the rule against hearsay for statements relating to the execution, revocation, identification, or terms of declarant's will. Therefore, Nancy might be successful based upon the combination of Idaho Rule of Evidence 803(3) and I.C. Section 15-2-301(a), which indicates that

If a testator fails to provide by will for his surviving spouse who married the testator after the execution of the will, the omitted spouse shall receive the same share of the estate he would have received if the decedent left no will unless it appears from the will that the omission was intentional or the testator provided for the spouse by transfer outside the will and the intent that the transfer be in lieu of a testamentary provision is shown by statements of the testator or from the amount of the transfer or other evidence.

-CM

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/evidenceprof/2009/04/8033-willin-re-estate-of-montgomery----p3d------2009-wl-863105idaho2009.html

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