It may not have been a landmark case, but the Utah Supreme Court mapped out new legal territory with its 4-0 decision involving $43,000 an Ogden widower found in a roasting pan in his kitchen.
The case, which was appealed from 2nd District Court via the Utah Court of Appeals, involved a dispute between Robert Gorrell and the Ogden bank responsible for managing the estate of his deceased wife, Kathleen.Justices ruled Tuesday that Robert Gorrell, since deceased, was entitled to half the money found in the roasting pan, which was apparently placed there by his wife. Gorrell's share of the money will now go to his estate, while the other half will go to his wife's.
Kathleen Gorrell had executed a will before her death but had not specifically included the $43,000 as an asset in her last testament.
It was a case that should establish future precedent in rare incidents involving cash found in homes where one spouse has died without specifying how the money should be used.
In this instance, the Supreme Court ruled the money should be divided evenly between Gorrell and his wife's estate on the grounds of "tenancy in common," the notion that marriage partners who mingle their earnings and assets each own half of any common property.
That ruling reversed an appeals court decision awarding all the money to Gorrell and remanded the case to the trial court for entry of a judgment dividing the property evenly.
The appeals court had previously reversed the trial court ruling which held all the money should go to Kathleen Gorrell's estate, which was being managed by First Security Bank.
Ironically, First Security originally offered Robert Gorrell half of the $43,000 when the Ogden man, who performed widely in Northern Utah as "Gimpy the Clown," reported he had found the money.
Ogden attorney Mike Glasmann, who represented the bank, said Gorrell testified he was surprised one day when he discovered $43,000 in mostly small bills stashed in a kitchen pan.
"He was honest and reported the money to the bank," Glasmann said.
Gorrell argued he was entitled to the money while the bank, which had a legal duty to protect Kathleen Gorrell's estate, contended the $43,000 was the property of the dead woman and should be included in her estate, the attorney said.
Glasmann indicated Robert Gorrell had been included in his wife's will and designated to receive a portion of her estate.
Justices conceded they could not resolve the dispute over whether Kathleen Gorrell really owned the money, but said marital partnerships occupy a place in society that merits special protection.
"We hold that, in absence of proof of actual ownership, property held in the marital home is presumed to be held in a tenancy in common, half by the husband and half by the wife," wrote Justice Christine Durham, who drafted the high court's decision.
"This is new law, although it's very narrow," Glasmann said. "The Supreme Court is now saying that cash found in a home will be split between a surviving spouse and the decedent's estate."