In the Matter of the Estate of: MICHAEL A. PETELLE, Deceased.
MICHELLE ERSFELD PETELLE, Respondent. GLORIA PETELLE, Appellant,
six-year marriage, Michael Petelle filed a petition to
dissolve his marriage to Michelle Ersfeld
Petelle. The parties executed a Separation Contract
and CR2A Agreement (Separation Contract) that divided their
assets into separate property and was a "final
settlement of all their marital and property rights and
obligations." Michael died intestate with no children
before a dissolution decree was entered. Gloria Petelle,
Michael's mother and heir, appeals the trial court's
denial of her motion to terminate Michelle's right to
intestate succession. We hold that the right to intestate
succession is a marital right that, although derived from
statute, arises because of a person's marital status. By
agreeing to a final settlement of all marital rights,
Michelle waived that right by signing the Separation
Contract. Therefore, we reverse and remand with instructions
for the trial court to grant Gloria's motion to terminate
Michelle's right to intestate succession. We also deny
Michelle's request for attorney fees on appeal and at the
and Michelle married on May 20, 2011. On January 27, 2017,
Michael filed a petition for dissolution of their marriage.
On February 14, 2017, Michael and Michelle executed the
Separation Contract that divided their property and debts.
Michael died on May 1, 2017, before a final decree of
dissolution was entered. He did not have a will, and he had
submitted a petition for letters of administration,
appointment of an administrator, an order of solvency, and
nonintervention powers on May 10, 2017. Her petition did not
disclose the existence of the dissolution action or the
Separation Contract. Furthermore, she did not give notice to
any of Michael's heirs of her intent to petition for
nonintervention powers, as required by RCW 11.68.041. Gloria
contested Michelle's nonintervention powers. The trial
court revoked Michelle's nonintervention powers and
required her to post a $100, 000 bond but allowed Michelle to
continue as Michael's personal representative. It also
awarded attorney fees to Gloria.
then petitioned the court on September 27, 2017, for an order
terminating Michelle's right to intestate succession. The
trial court denied Gloria's motion but reserved ruling on
Michelle's motion for attorney fees. Gloria appeals.
TO INHERIT AS A "SURVIVING SPOUSE"
argues that Michelle and Michael's marriage was defunct
and, therefore, Michelle is not entitled to inherit as a
"surviving spouse" because her marriage to Michael
was "terminated" under RCW 11.02.005(17). We
meaning of a statute is a question of law that we review de
novo. Durant v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 191
Wn.2d 1, 8, 419 P.3d 400 (2018). Our fundamental objective in
determining what a statute means is to ascertain and carry
out the legislature's intent. Durant. 191 Wn.2d
at 8. "If the statute's meaning is plain on its
face, then courts must give effect to its plain meaning as an
expression of what the legislature intended."
Durant. 191 Wn.2d at 8. The court may use a
dictionary to discern the plain meaning of an undefined
statutory term. Nissen v. Pierce County, 183 Wn.2d
863. 881. 357 P.3d 45 (2015V If, after consulting a
dictionary, the statute is susceptible to more than one
reasonable meaning, the statute is ambiguous and it is
appropriate to use other statutory construction aids and
examine the legislative history. Wriqlev v. State, 5
Wn.App. 2d 909, 924-25, 428 P.3d 1279 (2018). "The court
has frequently looked to final bill reports as part of an
inquiry into legislative history." State v.
Bash, 130 Wn.2d 594, 601, 925 P.2d 978 (1996).
11.04.015(1)(c) states that a "surviving spouse"
shall receive "[t]here-quarters of the net separate
estate if there is no surviving issue, but the intestate is
survived by one or more of his or her parents." RCW
11.02.005(17) describes when an individual does not
qualify as a "surviving spouse":
"Surviving spouse" or "surviving domestic
partner" does not include an individual whose marriage
to or state registered domestic partnership with the decedent
has been terminated, dissolved, or invalidated-----A
decree of separation that does not terminate the status of
spouses or domestic partners is not a dissolution or
invalidation for purposes of this subsection.
(Emphasis added.) "Terminated" is not defined in
the statute, but the dictionary defines "terminate"
as "to bring to an ending or cessation in time,
sequence, or continuity: close ... to form the ending or
conclusion of... to end formally and definitely (as a pact,
agreement, contract)." Webster's Third New
International Dictionary 2359 (2002). Using this definition
of "terminated," the term is susceptible to two or
more meanings because it is not clear what action is required
to "terminate" a marriage or domestic partnership.
Therefore, it is necessary to consult the legislative history
of the statute to ascertain the legislature's intent.
11.02.005(17) was revised in 2008 as part of a broader bill
expanding domestic rights and responsibilities of all couples
recognized as domestic partners under Washington's State
Registered Domestic Partnerships Act, chapter 26.60 RCW. H.B.
3104, 60th Leg., Reg. Sess. (Wash. 2008). The statute's
references to domestic partners and domestic partnerships and
the word "terminated" were added as part of this
revision. Based on the final bill report,
"terminated" refers to a process for ending a
domestic partnership with the Secretary of State.
See Final B. Rep. on Second Substitute H.B. 3104,
60th Leg., Reg. Sess. (Wash. 2008). Contrary to Gloria's
contention, the legislature did not add
"terminated" to describe a marriage that is
defunct. Because Michelle was not in a domestic partnership