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In re Estate of McWilliams

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Southern District, Second Division

April 23, 2018

IN THE ESTATE OF: MATTHEW McWILLIAMS, DECEASED,
v.
LISA A. MAYER, Interested Party, Appellant. ESTATE OF MATTHEW McWILLIAMS by and through its duly appointed Personal Representative, Bridget Garner, and by the designated Resident Agent for Personal Representative, Susan Bell, Respondents,

          APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF CRAWFORD COUNTY Honorable Scott L. Bernstein, Judge

          DANIEL E. SCOTT, JUDGE.

         We conclude that spousal-beneficiary designations on Department of Revenue (DOR) title certificates were ineffective after the marriage was dissolved, and therefore affirm a judgment declaring the titled assets to be property of the respondent probate estate.[1]

         Factual and Procedural Background

         During 2004-05, Matthew McWilliams acquired a bass boat, motor, and two trailers. All were solely titled in Matthew's name with his wife Lisa as transfer-on-death (TOD) beneficiary per §§ 301.681.1 & 306.461.1 (collectively "titled assets"). When their marriage was dissolved, Matthew was awarded the titled assets, but did not re-title them or change the beneficiary designations. After Matthew died intestate, Lisa claimed the titled assets based on the TOD provisions. Respondents disagreed, citing § 461.051.1:

If, after an owner makes a beneficiary designation, the owner's marriage is dissolved or annulled, any provision of the beneficiary designation in favor of the owner's former spouse … is revoked on the date the marriage is dissolved or annulled…. The beneficiary designation shall be given effect as if the former spouse … had disclaimed the revoked provision.

         The probate division ruled in respondents' favor after a de facto discovery-of-assets trial on stipulated facts. Lisa appeals.[2]

         Statutory Background

         TOD designations are authorized and largely governed by RSMo chapter 461, Missouri's Nonprobate Transfers Law (MNTL). Prior to 1995, DOR titles were exempt from most of the MNTL, including § 461.051's nullification of spousal TODs upon marriage dissolution.[3]

         In 1995, however, DOR titles became subject to § 461.051 as part of a major MNTL rewrite. See § 461.073.5 (1995 supp. and currently) and 1995 Committee Comment ("[§] 461.051 (dealing with marriage dissolution) … [is] made applicable to certificates of ownership or title issued by the director of revenue…."); 4A Mo. Practice, Probate and Surrogate Laws Manual § 461.073 (2d ed. & 2017 supp.).

         Lisa's Points and Analysis

         We summarize and address Lisa's three claims of error as follows:

         Point 1

         First, Lisa urges that § 461.073 "specifically excludes" DOR title certificates from the MNTL, so § 461.051 cannot apply to this case. As shown above, this may have been ...


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