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In re Estate of Frank

Supreme Court of Wyoming

January 11, 2019

IN THE MATTER OF THE ESTATE OF CHRIS ROBERT FRANK, deceased. SHARON ROSS, Appellant (Petitioner).

          Appeal from the District Court of Laramie County The Honorable Catherine R. Rogers, Judge

          Representing Appellant: Jason David Wasserburger, Throne Law Office, P.C., Cheyenne, Wyoming.

          Representing Appellee: No appearance.

          Before DAVIS, C.J., and BURKE [*] , FOX, KAUTZ, and BOOMGAARDEN, JJ.

          BOOMGAARDEN, JUSTICE.

         [¶1] Appellant, Sharon Ross, applied for a decree of summary distribution of real property of the estate of her grandfather, Chris Robert Frank (Decedent). The district court denied the application, ruling Appellant lacked standing to file it. We affirm.

         ISSUE

         Did the district court err in its analysis of W.S. § 2-1-205 regarding who can file as a distributee and from whom a distributee may claim?

         FACTS

         [¶2] Decedent, Chris Robert Frank, died testate on August 28, 1990, in Laramie County, Wyoming, where he owned property interests. Several family members survived Decedent, including his spouse, Emily Frank; four sons, Marvin Frank, Kenneth Frank, Darrell Frank, and Richard Frank; and a daughter, Ardith Ross. Decedent's estate was never formally administered. Through his will, Decedent bequeathed the rest, residue, and remainder of his estate to his spouse, Emily.

         [¶3] Emily Frank died on September 17, 1991. Emily died testate and her estate also was never formally administered. She bequeathed the rest, residue, and remainder of her estate in equal shares to her five surviving children.

         [¶4] Decedent's and Emily's daughter, Ardith Ross, died intestate on December 18, 1994. Ardith died without a will and her estate was never probated. She was survived by her spouse, Henry Ross, and her daughter, Appellant. Under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 2-4-101(a)(i) (LexisNexis 2017), Henry and Appellant each received one half of Ardith Ross's estate. Under the same statute, Henry's estate descended to his sole heir, Appellant, when he died intestate on July 28, 2001.

         [¶5] Sixteen years later, on April 5, 2018, Appellant applied for a decree of summary distribution of the real property of Decedent's estate under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 2-1-205 (LexisNexis 2017). Appellant identified herself and the four surviving children of Decedent and Emily as the estate's distributees and asked the court to distribute Decedent's real property interests in equal shares to the distributees. The district court denied Appellant's application because Appellant did not fit the definition of "distributee" under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 2-1-301(a)(xiii) (LexisNexis 2017) and, thus, lacked standing under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 2-1-205(a) to file the application. The court stated in support of its decision that Decedent's spouse, Emily Frank, was the "distributee" under Decedent's will, not Appellant. The court also opined that, if Decedent's estate was subject to intestate succession under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 2-4-101, Decedent's wife and five children would be the only "distributees" because each of them survived Decedent. Finally, the district court remarked that the definition of "distributee" showed the purpose of Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 2-1-205 was to provide summary distribution of the property of only one decedent, while Appellant's application improperly sought to distribute property of multiple estates. The court described the affected estates as follows:

a. As it concerns the Decedent's four (4) surviving sons, through the estates of both the Decedent and Emily C. Frank, the ...

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