This case involved the interpretation of an alternate residuary clause in a will devising half of the testator’s estate to his heirs-at-law and the other half to his wife’s heirs-at-law. In 1995, decedent executed a will naming his then-wife, if she survived him, as the primary beneficiary of the residue of his estate, with an alternate residuary clause devising one-half of his estate to his wife’s “heirs-at-law.” The couple’s marriage was dissolved in 2019, and decedent passed away in 2021 without revising his will. Appellant, decedent’s brother and the personal representative of his estate, petitioned for formal probate of the will, identifying only decedent’s siblings as heirs and devisees. Wife’s parents, respondents, objected, claiming that they were wife’s heirs and were wrongfully omitted as devisees in the petition. The District Court ruled that the devise to wife’s heirs failed as a matter of law. A divided panel of the Court of Appeals reversed.
The Supreme Court held that an alternate residuary clause of a will containing a devise to the heirs of the testator’s spouse was nullified after dissolution of the testator’s marriage because the class of heirs ceased to exist. Reversed.
The question presented in this case was whether the District Court exceeded the scope of its inherent authority when it awarded attorney fees based on conduct that occurred outside the context of litigation. The Court of Appeals determined that the attorney fee award was within the scope of the District Court’s inherent authority.
The Supreme Court held that, because an award of attorney fees was not necessary to the performance of a judicial function, the District Court exceeded the scope of the court’s inherent authority in making the award. Reversed and remanded.
Fong E. Lee was temporarily suspended from the practice of law pending final resolution of
Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals
The decision of the Workers Compensation Court of Appeals in this matter was affirmed without opinion.