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153980-1 - In re Estate of James Erwin, Sr

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153980

 In re Estate of James Erwin, Sr.

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Beatrice King, Individually and as Personal Representative  for the Estate of James Erwin, Sr.,
 
L. Fallasha Erwin
 
Appellant,
 
v
(Appeal from Ct of Appeals)
 
 
(Saginaw PC – Thane, N.)
 
Jacqueline E. Nash, Billy J. Erwin, Demarkius Erwin, Maggie Erwin, and Stacy Erwin Oakes,
 
Valerie Kutz-Otway
Robert C. Miller
 
Appellees,
 
 
 153981
 In re Estate of James Erwin, Sr.
_________________________________
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Beatrice King,
 
 
 
Appellant,
 
v
 
 
 
 
 
Jacqueline E. Nash, Billy J. Erwin, Demarkius Erwin, Maggie Erwin, Stacy Erwin Oakes, and Douglas Taylor,
Appellees.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Summary

In 2012, James Erwin, Sr., died intestate, survived by his spouse, Maggie Erwin, six children from his first marriage, and four children from his marriage to Maggie. A dispute arose among potential beneficiaries of the estate whether, pursuant to the Estates and Protected Individuals Code (EPIC), 700.1101 et seq., Maggie is entitled to a share of the decedent’s intestate estate as a “surviving spouse” because she had not physically lived with James for many years before his death. According to MCL 700.2801(2)(e)(i), a surviving spouse does not include an individual who was “willfully absent from the decedent spouse” for “1 year or more before the death of the deceased person.” James and Maggie were married in 1968, purchased a house as tenants by the entireties in 1973, and separated in 1976. James and Maggie did not live together again after 1976. But they allegedly maintained a relationship as evidenced by Maggie’s petition for support for herself and their four children, James’ lawsuit in 2010 against his employer to keep Maggie covered by his health insurance plan, and James’ decision to name Maggie as the beneficiary of his life insurance policy. The probate court held that, because James and Maggie had ongoing contact and maintained a relationship through the years, Maggie had not willfully abandoned James. The Court of Appeals affirmed, relying on In re Harris Estate, 151 Mich App 780 (1986), which held that MCL 700.2801(2)(e)(i) requires proof of an intent to abandon one’s marital rights before a widow or widower is disqualified from being a “surviving spouse.” But a subsequent panel of the Court of Appeals, In re Peterson Estate, 315 Mich App 423 (2016), disagreed with the holding in Harris. The Supreme Court granted leave to appeal to address: (1) whether the “willfully absent” provision in MCL 700.2801(2)(e)(i) is defined exclusively by physical separation, or whether it includes consideration of the emotional bonds and connections between spouses; and (2) whether MCL 700.2801(2)(e)(i) requires proof that a spouse intends to abandon his or her marital rights.