This summary also appears under Family Law
Issues: Distribution of property following the death of the deceased spouse before finalization of the divorce; Wilson v. Wilson; MCR 3.216(H)(7); Tiedman v. Tiedman; Kresnak v. Kresnak; Tokar v. Albery
Court: Michigan Court of Appeals (Unpublished)
Case Name: In re Hayes Estate
e-Journal Number: 57737
Judge(s): Per Curiam – Boonstra, Meter, and Servitto
Concluding that the trial court erred in granting summary disposition to respondent (the son of the deceased, Ronald, and a beneficiary of his estate) because Ronald's death terminated the divorce proceedings involving Ronald and the petitioner, the court reversed and remanded. Ronald and petitioner were proceeding with a divorce when he died. The parties had been ordered to domestic-relations mediation. A transcript of the audio recording of the mediation revealed that they "had reached a settlement that provided for a largely equal division of the marital estate." Petitioner testified at a hearing that there had been a breakdown of the marriage and that they had reached an equitable settlement. After Ronald's death, she filed a petition in the probate court seeking to restrain respondent from taking certain assets. The probate court held "there was a binding agreement existing" between Ronald and petitioner, "no genuine of material facts exists," and respondent was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In concluding that the trial court erred, the court noted that "when Ronald died, the divorce proceedings ended, and at that point, no judgment had been entered." Respondent contended that Kresnak "essentially vitiates the import of Tiedman." However, the court failed "to see how Kresnak controls in the present case, seeing as the present case, as in Tiedman, involves the proposed entry of a judgment for divorce, not for separate maintenance." It concluded that Tiedman was "the more applicable case." In Tokar, the court mentioned two possible exceptions under which a binding arbitration award in a divorce case could be enforced - (1) if entry of judgment would have been merely "ministerial" and (2) "if the decedent had acted in reliance on the award." The court in Tokar found that entry of judgment would not have been "ministerial" because there were issues remaining and "before the judgment of divorce was entered, the parties had the option to reconcile or stipulate to an agreement entirely different from the arbitration award." The court concluded that the same reasoning held true in this case. The Tokar court "also found no reliance by the decedent, stating that, to show reliance, '[m]eaningful proof of conduct indicating the parties themselves in good faith believed they were divorced is required.'" Such reliance was not shown in this case either.
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