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In re Estate of Thomas

January 29, 2009

IN THE MATTER OF THE ESTATE OF JOHN EMMANUEL THOMAS, DECEASED:
MARGARET DICKSON, APPELLANT (RESPONDENT),
v.
KRIS THOMAS, PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF JOHN EMMANUEL THOMAS, APPELLEE (PETITIONER).



Appeal from the District Court of Carbon County The Honorable Wade E. Waldrip, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hill, Justice.

Before VOIGT, C.J., and GOLDEN, HILL, KITE, and BURKE, JJ.

[¶1] Appellant, Margaret Dickson (Dickson), seeks review of a district court order which quieted title to the property at issue in this appeal, to Dickson and the Appellee, the Estate of John Emmanuel Thomas (Thomas), "in equal shares as tenants in common." Thomas was Dickson‟s brother. Dickson contends that the quiet title action should have resulted in recognition that the two siblings held title to the property as joint tenants with right of survivorship, and that the occurrence of Thomas‟s death left Dickson as the sole owner of the property. We will affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand to the district court with directions that the district court enter summary judgment in favor of Dickson with respect to the property described in the Exhibit 1 Deed.

ISSUE

[¶2] Dickson frames the issue thus:

Does a deed granting property to two unmarried persons as "tenants by the entireties with right of survivorship and not as tenants in common" create a joint tenancy or a tenancy in common?

Thomas did not provide a statement of the issue; however he recites this as a summary of his position:

The trial court‟s findings were not clearly erroneous. The Exhibit 1 Deed was ambiguous. The trial court properly considered the Exhibit 2 Deed to determine grantors‟ intent. The trial judge did not commit a mistake, nor was he erroneous as a matter of law in going outside the four corners of the deed to determine intent.

FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

[¶3] The facts that must be used to resolve this case are set out in the district court‟s order settling and approving the parties‟ stipulated statement of the evidence, as provided for by W.R.A.P. 3.03. The outcome of this case turns solely on a construction of the language of two deeds, as noted below. Thus we are presented with only questions of law, which we review de novo.

A Petition to Quiet Title and for Determination of an Interest in Land was filed on May 29, 2007. An order for Notice and Hearing was signed by the District Court Judge on May 30, 2007, setting the matter for hearing on August 1, 2007 and delivered, which [Dickson] signed for on July 16, 2007.

At the hearing on August 1, 200[7], .Margaret Dickson appeared in person, together with the representative of the estate, Kris Thomas, and attorney for the estate, R.E. Rauchfuss, as well as attorney Frank Jones, who made a special appearance on behalf of Jason Thomas, one of the heirs, who was unable to attend. [Dickson] inquired to the Court whether she should get an attorney. The Honorable Wade E. Waldrip informed [Dickson] and all present [that] he would continue the hearing so that [Dickson] or heirs could seek counsel if they so chose, and to have their attorney[s] make an Entry of Appearance prior to the next hearing, which was continued to February 14, 2008. Notice of Hearing on Petition to Quiet Title and for Determination of Interest of Land in the above-named estate was sent via certified mail which was delivered and [Dickson] signed for on January 29, 2008, as appears from Exhibit 3 attached hereto.

A hearing on the Petition to Quiet Title and for Determination of an Interest in Land filed by Kris Thomas, Personal Representative of the Estate of John Emmanuel Thomas, was held on February 14, 2008. Ms. Thomas appeared in person with her attorney, R.E. Rauchfuss, appearing by phone. Ms. Dickson also appeared in person after having received a copy of the Order for Notice and Hearing.

At the hearing the following facts were presented by the Personal Representative:

On 8/19/1999 Mike G. Thomas and Dorothy J. Thomas, husband and wife, parents of decedent, transferred the real estate located in [detailed legal description] to "John E. Thomas and Margaret E. Dickson, only children of Mike G. Thomas and Dorothy L. Thomas, as tenants by the tntireties (sic) with right of survivorship, and not as tenants in common" by way of a Warranty Deed, filed at B-975, P-162 in the Carbon County Clerk‟s office and attached hereto as Exhibit 1. Emily Thomas, Widow, previously ...


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