Beren v. BerenAnnotate this Case
At issue in this case was whether, and to what extent, the Colorado Probate Code displaced a probate court's authority to award an equitable adjustment supplementing a spouse's elective share of the decedent's estate. By the date of final distribution of the estate at the heart of this case, it had grown in value from $73 million to more than $250 million. Concluding that it would be unfair for the elective share to be "frozen in time" while extensive litigation concerning its computation eroded its value in relation to the appreciating estate, the probate court exercised its equitable authority by supplementing the elective share. The probate court determined that the spouse was entitled to an elective share of approximately $26 million, plus an equitable award of approximately $24.5 million, based on a17.46% rate of return on the undistributed balance of her elective share, calculated to reflect appreciation and income to the entire estate. The court of appeals reversed the trial court's decision, ruling that the Probate Code displaced a court's equitable powers in the elective-share arena as a matter of law. The court of appeals ordered the spouse to repay the entire $24.5 million equitable award, plus restitutionary interest from the date of distribution. Reading the elective-share statutes together with the probate court's equitable authority, the Supreme Court concluded that the Colorado Probate Code's plain language demonstrated that a particular statutory provision dealing with the spouse's elective share, section 15-11-202(1), C.R.S. (2014), fixed the value of the property comprising the augmented estate on the decedent's date of death. This specific provision controlled over the general equitable authority the probate court may exercise under section 15-10-103, C.R.S. (2014).Accordingly, the probate court erred by linking its equitable award to appreciation and income to the entire augmented estate. Nevertheless, section 15-10-103 expressly reserved the probate court's equitable authority to the extent that it was not displaced by a specific statutory provision. "On remand, the probate court has tools at its disposal to exercise equity consistent with the statutory elective-share framework." The Court set aside the court of appeals' judgment requiring the spouse to repay the entire $24.5 million equitable award with interest. The probate court's mandate on remand was to determine what equitable relief was available to the spouse under the specific facts of this case.