Wednesday, July 8, 2020
In the June 2020 case of Estate of Swanberg, the Montana Supreme Court upheld the denial of a petition to reopen a probate estate based on alleged fraud. The Montana Supreme Court held that the allegations of fraud did not operate to toll the applicable probate time limitations and did not permit a belated will contest.
Tristan and Taylor Swanberg are there children of Chandler Swanberg, decedent. Decedent executed a will and trust in 2006, and died in 2012. Decedent was survived by three children: Taylor and Tristan (the Swanbergs) and Jennifer Wilson. Wilson filed a petition to formally probate decedent's 2006 will, determine testacy and heirs, and to appoint a personal representative.
The 2006 Will and trust left almost all of decedents real and personal property to Wilson, including his holdings in Swanberg Farms in north-central Montana. Wilson provided the requisite notice of the probate proceedings to the Swanbergs. The Swanbergs did not appear at any hearings or file any objections. This will was admitted to probate and Wilson was appointed as personal representative. The order setting and distributing the estate was entered in November 2016.
Two years later, in. November 2018, the Swanbergs petitioned to reopen Decedent's estate, alleging that Decedent lacked the requisite mental capacity to execute the 2006 will and trust, and that the documents were the product of undue influence exerted by Wilson. The Swanbergs maintained that a prior will left decedent's estate to the three children in equal shares.
The Swanberg's sought a declaratory judgment providing that the trust was invalid or void.
The are remedies for fraud perpetrated in connection with probate proceedings provided under section 72-11, MCA. However, the section does not apply to remedies relating to fraud practiced on a decedent during the decedent's lifetime that affects succession of the estate.
In this case, Montana law did not provide any recourse for the Swanberg's to bring what was, in effect, a belated will contest.
See Montana Supreme Court: Alleged Fraud Did Not Toll Probate Time Limitations To Challenge Will, Probate Stars, June 23, 2020.