The elective share statutes can only be used to recover quasi-community property under Idaho law, as opposed to community property. To recover community property, a common law remedy is available for Idaho surviving spouses.
The mechanics of quasi-community property and Idaho elective share law was examined by the Idaho Supreme Court in the March 26, 2020 case In Re Estate of Brown.
The Facts of In Re Estate of Brown
This case stemmed from Carol McCoy Brown’s petition for an elective share of her decedent husband’s augmented estate. When Michael Orion Brown (the decedent) died intestate, she discovered that he had set aside multiple payable on death (POD) accounts for his children and grandchildren from a prior marriage.
Carol filed a petition to recover a portion of the POD funds as part of the decedent’s augmented estate. Carol alleged that the funds in the POD accounts were presumptively community property or quasi-community property of the decedent’s augmented estate and that she was entitled to an elective share of the accounts as the surviving spouse.
The decedent’s children (the Heirs) challenged the petition.
At the hearing, Carol presented no witnesses or evidence, and stated that she intended to “rest on the pleadings and the record” filed in the case. Carol alleged that Idaho’s community property presumption applied, meaning that the disputed funds were presumed to be community property and that the Heirs bore the burden of proving that the disputed funds were separate property.
The magistrate court denied Carol’s petition, concluding that she had not met her burden of demonstrating that the POD funds were quasi-community property as required by the elective share statutes. Carol appealed to the district court, which affirmed the magistrate court’s denial of the petition, and granted the Heirs attorney fees. The Idaho Supreme Court affirmed.
What Is The Community Property Presumption Under Idaho Law?
Idaho is a community property state. All property acquired during marriage is presumed to be community property.
In Idaho, all property owned by a spouse before marriage and property acquired after marriage with the proceeds of separate property remain that spouse’s separate property. All other property acquired after marriage is community property.
Why Does Idaho Have An Elective Share Statute?
Elective share statutes are generally viewed as unnecessary in community property jurisdictions because the surviving spouse has a vested ownership interest in half of the assets held by the spouse.
However, the community property regime does not protect a spouse’s interest with regard to property acquired during the marriage but before the couple lived in a community property jurisdiction. Therefore:
Many community property jurisdictions, including Idaho, have adopted quasi-community property elective share statutes to address this very issue. Id. Generally, these statutes allow a surviving spouse to petition for an elective share, or a portion, of the quasi-community property held by the decedent that would otherwise be unavailable to the surviving spouse at common law. Id. at 672-73. This type of election is not necessary for couples who have remained in community property jurisdictions throughout their marriage, because each spouse already has a vested interest in one-half of the community property.
Is Quasi-Community Property The Same As Community Property?
No. Idaho’s quasi-community property statutes appear in Idaho’s version of the Uniform Probate Code, while Idaho’s community property definition is found in the domestic relations code.
The elective share statute defines “quasi-community property” in Idaho Code section 15-2-201(b). Quasi-community property is:
[A]ll personal property, wherever situated, and all real property situated in this state which has heretofore been acquired or is hereafter acquired by the decedent while domiciled elsewhere and which would have been the community property of the decedent and surviving spouse had the decedent been domiciled in this state at the time of its acquisition[.]
Conversely, the definition of community property is all “other property [that is not separate property] acquired after marriage by either husband or wife.” Idaho Code §§ 15-1-201(6), 32-906(1).
The community property definition does not include the domicile requirement included in the quasi-community property definition.
Idaho’s Elective Share Statute and Quasi-Community Property
In Brown, Carol argued that community property and quasi-community property are the same thing for purposes of elective share. Carol’s argument ignores the plain language of the elective share statute. As summarized by the court:
The elective share right in Idaho only applies “to protect a surviving spouse from not receiving an equitable or fair share of the decedent’s estate when a couple has relocated to Idaho from a separate property state.” See Nat’l Bus. Inst., A Practical Guide to Estate Administration in Idaho 105 (2005) (emphasis added). Separate property states (common law, non-community property states) generally have forced shares such as dower or curtesy. Id. Idaho, however, abolished dower and curtesy, leaving Idaho Code section 15-2-201 et seq., as the surviving spouse’s vehicle for claiming a share of property acquired in a non-community property state.
Idaho has a separate vehicle outside of the elective share statute to force the return of community property to a surviving spouse under the common law. The elective share statutes can only be used to recover quasi community property under Idaho law.
Who Has The Burden Of Proof In Idaho Elective Share Proceedings?
Under the elective share statute, the petitioner is required to prove that the disputed property was acquired out of state and would have been community property had it been acquired in Idaho.
Carol failed to carry her initial burden of proof that the disputed property was acquired out of state. Indeed, Carol presented no evidence of any kind to support her claims.
The Idaho Supreme Court reminds estate practitioners and surviving spouses in this opinion that statutes mean what they say, and evidence is required if you are claiming rights in quasi-community property as part of the elective share.