The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Beren v. Beren on Monday, May 11, 2015.
Colorado Probate Code—Elective Share—CRS §15-11-202(1)—Equitable Authority—CRS § 15-10-103.
The Supreme Court considered whether, and to what extent, the Colorado Probate Code displaces a probate court’s authority to award an equitable adjustment supplementing a spouse’s elective share of the decedent’s estate. The Court held that the Probate Code’s plain language demonstrates that a particular statutory provision dealing with the spouse’s elective share, CRS §15-11-202(1), fixes the value of the property comprising the augmented estate on the decedent’s date of death. This provision controls over the general equitable authority the probate court may exercise under CRS §15-10-103. Accordingly, the Court concluded that the probate court erred by linking its equitable award to appreciation and income to the entire augmented estate. Nevertheless, CRS §15-10-103 expressly reserves the probate court’s equitable authority to the extent that it is 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 affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the court of appeals and remanded the case for further proceedings. 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 shall determine on remand what equitable relief is available to the spouse under the specific facts of this case. The probate court may take additional evidence and argument, and may order further relief and enter a final judgment consistent with this opinion.