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In re Estate of Meeker

Supreme Court of Wyoming

June 21, 2017

IN THE MATTER OF THE ESTATE OF ROBERT S. MEEKER, Deceased.
v.
CAROLE L. WAGNER, Appellee (Respondent). ROBIN MEEKER GASTON, MISTY S. OXBORROW, and DUSTIN D. MEEKER, Appellants (Petitioners),

         Appeal from the District Court of Sheridan County The Honorable William J. Edelman, Judge

          Representing Appellants: Letitia Carole Abromats of Letitia C. Abromats, P.C., Greybull, Wyoming.

          Representing Appellee: Benjamin Scott Kirven of Kirven and Kirven, P.C., Buffalo, Wyoming.

          Before BURKE, C.J., and HILL, DAVIS, FOX, and KAUTZ, JJ.

          KAUTZ, Justice.

         [¶1] Appellants Robin Meeker Gaston, Misty S. Oxborrow and Dustin D. Meeker (the Meeker children) are the surviving children of the decedent, Robert S. Meeker. They contested Mr. Meeker's will, which left the bulk of his estate to Appellee Carole L. Wagner. When the Meeker children filed their petition to set aside the probate of the will, they also filed a motion for change of judge under the peremptory disqualification provision in W.R.C.P. 40.1. The district court denied the motion for peremptory disqualification as untimely and granted summary judgment to Ms. Wagner on the merits. On appeal, the Meeker children challenge the district court's order denying their request for peremptory disqualification of the district judge and its order granting summary judgment in favor of Ms. Wagner.

         [¶2] We conclude that the district court erred by denying the Meeker children's request for a change of judge. Consequently, we reverse and remand.

         ISSUE

         [¶3] The dispositive issue in this case is: Whether the district court erred by refusing to grant the Meeker children's Rule 40.1(b)(1) motion for peremptory disqualification of the assigned judge.

         FACTS[1]

         [¶4] In 2010 and 2011, Mr. Meeker executed a number of estate planning documents, including a durable power of attorney, advance health care directive, and will. He appointed Ms. Wagner, his long time companion, as his agent in the durable power of attorney and advance health care directive. He also named her as personal representative of his estate and devised the bulk of his estate to her.

         [¶5] In late 2014, Mr. Meeker moved into a long-term care center in Sheridan, Wyoming. The Meeker children were unhappy with the facility and did not believe that Ms. Wagner was acting in Mr. Meeker's best interests, so they filed an action for guardianship and conservatorship. The district court denied the Meeker children's requests.

         [¶6] Mr. Meeker died on September 6, 2015, and on October 27, 2015, Ms. Wagner petitioned for probate of his will and to be appointed personal representative of his estate. The clerk of court issued a notice assigning one of the two judges in the Fourth Judicial District to the probate. The judge assigned to the probate had presided over the earlier guardianship/conservatorship action. Ms. Wagner published notice of the probate and also sent notice to the Meeker children by certified mail. The notice stated that an action to set aside the will must be filed within three months of the date of the first publication of the notice, which was November 6, 2015. On January 29, 2016, the Meeker children filed a petition to deny admission of the will to probate, claiming Ms. Wagner exerted undue influence over their father and he lacked testamentary capacity to execute the will. On that same date, they also filed a motion for peremptory disqualification of the assigned judge.

         [¶7] Ms. Wagner filed a motion for summary judgment on the Meeker children's will contest. The district court denied the Meeker children's request for change of judge, concluding that it was not timely under Rule 40.1(b)(1), and granted Ms. Wagner's ...


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