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In re Estate of Womack

Supreme Court of Utah

June 23, 2017

In the Matter of the Estate of Gordon Warren Womack
v.
Stacy Lee Womack Leavitt and Nicholle Womack Hendrickson, Respondents. Gordon Douglas Womack, Petitioner,

         On Certiorari to the Utah Court of Appeals

         Eighth District, Duchesne The Honorable Samuel P. Chiara No. 893800021

          Justin C. Rammell, Sandy, for petitioner.

          Jon M. Hogelin, Benjamin T. Lakey, Provo, for respondents.

          Justice Himonas authored the opinion of the Court, in which Chief Justice Durrant, Associate Chief Justice Lee, Justice Durham, and Justice Pearce joined.

          OPINION

          HIMONAS JUSTICE.

         INTRODUCTION

         ¶ 1 This case arises out of a provision in Gordon Warren Womack's will that left a life estate in oil, gas, and mineral properties to his children, with the remainder to his grandchildren. Twenty-two years after Gordon Womack's estate was settled, one of his sons lodged a petition to reopen the estate and to interpret the provision, arguing that it had not been construed in past district court orders regarding his father's estate and, therefore, was not barred by a statute of limitations. We disagree and hold that the petition is severely untimely. Therefore, except as set forth below, infra ¶ 15, we affirm the decision of the court of appeals.

         BACKGROUND

         ¶ 2 Gordon Warren Womack (Decedent) died in May 1989, leaving three children: Gordon Douglas Womack (Douglas or Mr. Womack), Gloria Womack (Gloria), and Jeff Womack (Jeff). Decedent's will was formally probated the next month, with Gloria and Jeff appointed as the personal representatives of Decedent's estate.

         ¶ 3 The district court entered an estate-closing order in 1990. A year and two months later, the personal representatives petitioned the court to reopen the estate, in part so the court could construe a provision in the will that addressed oil, gas, and mineral rights. The provision states that

the oil, gas and mineral rights under the said property together with any other oil, gas and mineral rights of which I am seized or possessed at the time of my death, are devised to each of my children, share and share alike, for life, remainder to the children of each of my children, each of my grandchildren to divide their parent's share by representation per stirpes and not per capita.

(Emphases in original).

         ¶ 4 On June 3, 1991, the district court reopened the estate and held that the oil, gas, and mineral rights provision "shall be construed to mean that it was the decedent's intent that all children of his children be included, adopted or natural, who are or have been in being at the time of death of their parent who is a child of decedent." The court in July 1992 entered an amended estate-closing order stating that additional assets should be divided equally among Gloria, Jeff, and Douglas, and that if the "assets are, or include, mineral rights, a remainder interest in such mineral rights to the grandchildren of the decedent be provided, as appropriate, pursuant to the requirements of the decedent's Will as construed by this court's Order of June 3, 1991." The schedule of distribution attached to the 1992 estate order provided each of the children with a "1/3 Life Estate Interest" in the "Mineral Properties" and stated that each grandchild is to receive "an undivided remainder ...


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