McClelland's Estate, Matter of, 12938

Decision Date20 October 1975
Docket NumberNo. 12938,12938
Citation168 Mont. 160,541 P.2d 780
PartiesIn the Matter of the ESTATE of James M. McCLELLAND, Deceased.
CourtMontana Supreme Court

John L. Adams, Jr., argued, Billings, for appellant.

Donald E. Ronish, argued, Leonard H. McKinney, argued, Lewistown, for respondent.

CASTLES, Justice.

This is an appeal from a district court judgment finding that the appellant, Genie Driver, was not the common law wife of the deceased, James M. McClelland, and therefore, had no interest in his estate.

James M. McClelland died on October 3, 1972, and his mother filed a petition for letters of administration and was, on October 25, 1972, appointed as administratrix of deceased's estate. On about February 1, 1973, appellant, who designates herself as Genie Driver McClelland, filed a petition to determine heirship and for letters of administration, requesting that the previous letters issued to deceased's mother, be revoked.

Prior to his death, deceased was deeded an undivided one-fourth interest in real property in Fergus County, Montana. When he was 20 years old, he was married to Barbara Hanley McClelland and from this marriage, James Jonathan McClelland was born. This marriage ended in divorce in June, 1970, and James Jonathan McClelland is a respondent in this action.

In February, 1971, deceased and appellant met and they have lived together off and on until his death, a total of 19 months. Appellant claims that there existed a common law marriage between herself and deceased. She claims, therefore, that under section 91-1401, R.C.M.1947, she has a priority to nominate an administrator, and the district court must appoint that person as an administrator.

At the hearing there was extensive evidence presented by both sides as to the existence or nonexistence of the common law marriage between appellant and deceased. The court, after reviewing the evidence, found in its conclusion of law:

'Here, there is evidence of an initial illicit relationship between the decedent and Genie Driver, and the latter has, as a matter of law, failed to sustain the burden that the unlawful relationship changed to a lawful one.'

The district court further assessed court costs against appellant. Appellant then petitioned the district court to allow her to appeal in forma pauperis. The district court allowed appellant to file without costs, but would not allow her a transcript at public expense. From that judgment and later refusal to provide appellant with a transcript at the State's expense, appellant appeals.

The main issue before this Court is whether a common law marriage existed between appellant and deceased.

In support of the marriage, appellant introduced an affidavit signed by appellant and deceased declaring that there existed between them a common law marriage, and which was presented to the Oregon Welfare Department in order to obtain assistance.

According to appellant's testimony, Robert LaRoche, an attorney for Legal Services in Poplar determined that deceased and appellant had a valid common law marriage when they came to him concerning a possible charge against them of illegal cohabitation.

James A. McCann, county attorney, Roosevelt County, testified that he talked with deceased several times and each time deceased referred to appellant as his wife; that appellant and deceased came to his office to seek some advice about possible charges of illegal cohabitation being filed against them and McCann testified that he inquired of each of them whether or not they were married, and stated that each of them answered in the affirmative. He further stated that he went through the requirements of a common law marriage to ascertain for himself whether or not they are indeed married by common law. He testified that he thought that they were married.

Appellant alleged that the undisputed testimony was that appellant and deceased lived as man and wife in the home of appellant's mother in Fraser, Montana, in September, 1971.

Appellant also testified that Mr. Mauer, a social worker from Yellowstone County, who was in charge of appellant's case file, was told by appellant that they were married.

Appellant's probation officer, Joe Bock, testified that appellant advised him of her marriage to deceased and she even brought deceased to meet the probation officer.

When deceased was in the hospital appellant was allowed all the visiting privileges of a wife, and the doctors who committed deceased to Warm Springs State Hospital, placed on his certificate as to his marital status, 'Married (Common law marriage).'

When appellant went to Warm Springs State Hospital to visit the deceased, she signed the motel register as 'Mrs. James M. McClelland.'

Warm Springs State Hospital records showed deceased to be married and listed appellant as his wife.

Steven Day once lived with appellant and deceased, and he testified that deceased introduced appellant to Steve as 'his old lady' which Steve interpreted as meaning his wife.

Appellant asserts that all of the above testimony extablishes a common law marriage between herself and deceased.

Respondents, however, claim that in light of all the above evidence, there is still no common law marriage established by appellant. Respondents argue that the only time deceased and appellant alleged that they were married was when it would be of benefit to them; in Oregon when they needed welfare; to the welfare people in Billings when she needed aid to dependent children;...

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6 cases
  • Snetsinger v. Montana University System
    • United States
    • Montana Supreme Court
    • December 30, 2004
    ...establish a common law marriage, certainly does not promote marriage, and instead, detracts from it. ¶ 25 In Matter of Estate of McClelland (1975), 168 Mont. 160, 541 P.2d 780, although the couple signed an affidavit asserting a common law marriage, we declined to recognize such a marriage.......
  • Jim's Water Service v. Eayrs
    • United States
    • Wyoming Supreme Court
    • March 6, 1979
    ...on this issue. Miller v. Townsend Lumber Co., 152 Mont. 210, 448 P.2d 148 (1968); Estate of Slavens, supra; Matter of Estate of McClelland, 168 Mont. 160, 541 P.2d 780 (1975). The cases make clear that repute means general community reputation, that is, did the parties consider themselves a......
  • Hurley v. Hurley
    • United States
    • Montana Supreme Court
    • July 17, 1986
    ...the marriage must take place immediately. In Re Sartain (Mont.1984), 686 P.2d 909, 912, 41 St.Rep. 1691, 1694; In Re McClelland (1975), 168 Mont. 160, 164, 541 P.2d 780, 783. In Iowa the elements necessary to establish a common law marriage are: 1. an intent and agreement praesenti to be ma......
  • Estate of Murnion, Matter of
    • United States
    • Montana Supreme Court
    • August 28, 1984
    ...common-law marriage here because under our law, a common-law marriage must take place immediately, or not at all. Estate of McClelland (1975), 168 Mont. 160, 541 P.2d 780. While that statement appears in the case cited, and others, it is not determinative here. In addition to the consent re......
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