Estate of Goick
275 Mont. 13, 909 P.2d 1165 (1996)

  • Michael and Barbara Goicks were married and had three kids. Michael filed for divorce.
    • They told everybody (including the judge) they considered themselves divorced.
  • While the two were going through the court procedures to finalize the divorce, Michael died.
    • They both agreed that the marriage was over, but they hadn’t finished splitting up the assets and signing the paperwork.
  • Barbara moved to dismiss the divorce proceedings, and then filed a petition for adjudication of intestacy.
    • As the surviving spouse, she was entitled to a share, and was appointed the decedent’s personal representative.
  • Barbara entered a distribution agreement with the kids’ guardian ad litem to split the estate.
    • A guardian ad litem is a court appointed representative to look after the interests of a minor in situations like this.
  • Michael’s mother, brother and sister filed an objection, claiming that Barbara was not a surviving spouse.
  • The Trial Court granted summary judgment to Barbara. Michael’s relatives appealed.
  • The Montana Supreme Court affirmed.
    • The Montana Supreme Court found that Michael’s relatives were not successors to the estate and they had no legal interest in the distribution of the estate.
    • Further, the Court found that a divorce decree cannot be based on an oral agreement, so the Goick’s were not divorced until the paperwork was signed, no matter what they were saying.
      • Michael’s relatives unsuccessfully argued that Barbara should be barred by equitable estoppel from claiming that she was not divorced when she had previously claimed that she was in the Divorce Court.
        • Since Barbara had never officially gotten a divorce according to Montana law, she wasn’t taking an inconsistent position.
      • Michael’s relatives unsuccessfully argued that Barbara had a conflict of interest because she stood to get money while she was also the personal representative.
        • There is nothing barring a person from acting as a personal representative even if they stand to inherit.