In the Matter of the Estate of: Mathew Joseph Tomczik
Mathew and Sara were married in 1992. In 1995 they signed reciprocal wills. In his will Mathew named Sara as the primary beneficiary of the residue of his estate. If Sara did not survive Mathew he gave one-half of the residue to his heirs-at-law and one-half “to my wife’s heirs-at law”. In 2019, Mathew and Sara divorced and their marriage was dissolved by the district court. Mathew died two year later in 2021. There were no children of Mather and Sara’s marriage. Mathew did not have any children before his death. Sara is currently living and has no children. Sara’s heir-at-law are her parents the Calvin and Patricia.
Minnesota Statutes section 524.2-804, subdivision 2 provides that a former spouse named in a will is deemed to have died immediately before the dissolution of marriage. Thus, if you name your former spouse in your will once the marriage is dissolved any gifts to the former spouse are revoked, the spouse is effectively written out of the will and is treated as though they predeceased you. In this case Sara is treated as though she predeceased Mathew in 2019 when their marriage ended.
Mathew’s will named his brother Michael as personal representative. Michael filed a probate petition in which he identified Mathew’s siblings as the heirs and devisees of Mathew’s estate. Sara’s parents, Calvin and Patricia, objected to the petition asserting that as Sara’s heirs they were wrongfully omitted as devisees. The district court held that the gift to “my wife’s heirs” was contingent on Mathew and Sara remaining married, and thus Sara’s parents were not entitled to any inheritance from their former son-in-law’s estate.
In a 2-1 decision, Minnesota Court of Appeals held that because the language “one-half to my wife’s heirs-at-law” unambiguously expressed Mathew’s intent that Sara’s heirs are to receive a devise, Calvin and Patricia are entitled to one-half of the residue. The Appeals Court held that because Minnesota Statutes section 524.2-804 subdivision 2 requires the will to be given effect as if the former spouse died immediately before dissolution, the devise to Sara’s heirs (her parents) becomes operative and thus the Calvin and Patricia are entitled to one-half of the residue of the estate.
The one dissenting judge notes that to prevail the Headley’s require the Court to apply the fictional death of Sara twice: first to revoke the residual gift to her and a second time to create the right for her parents to inherit under the will. The dissent points out that if Sara were to have remarried her new husband would be her heir-at-law and thus entitled to a portion of Mathew’s residual estate.
If your will names your former spouse the will should be reviewed to make certain no unintended consequences are realized.
Stay tuned. This matter may be appealed.
Contributed by: Neil M. Meyer