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In re Estate of Murray

Supreme Court of Nevada

March 5, 2015

IN THE MATTER OF THE ESTATE OF ROBERT C. MURRAY, DECEASED.
v.
JOYCE SLAUGHTER, Respondent POLLY O'NEAL AND GARY STINNETT, Appellants,

Appeal from a district court order appointing respondent as the administrator of the decedent's estate in a probate proceeding. Eighth Judicial District Court, Clark County; Gloria Sturman, Judge.

Lawyerswest, Inc., and Robert C. Graham, Las Vegas, for Appellants.

Denton Lopez & Cho and Alice S. Denton and Jarien L. Cho, Las Vegas, for Respondent.

BEFORE HARDESTY, C.J., DOUGLAS and CHERRY, JJ.

OPINION

Page 420

CHERRY, J.

This appeal requires us to decide whether, in a probate proceeding, the parentage of a potential heir can be contested under NRS Chapter 132, Nevada's probate statutes, or NRS Chapter 126, the Nevada Parentage Act. We hold that the Nevada Parentage Act controls for parentage determinations, including determinations sought for probate matters. NRS 126.071(1) limits those who can make challenges under the Parentage Act to interested parties, however, which appellants are not. Further, under NRS 126.081(1), any challenge to parentage is barred if made more than three years after the child reaches the age of majority. In the instant case, NRS 126.081 precludes appellants from contesting the heir's parentage because more than three years have passed since the heir reached the age of majority.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Respondent Joyce Slaughter, the claimed heir, was born on January 26, 1949, in Wabbaseka, Arkansas. Her delayed birth certificate, issued bye the State of Arkansas on July 15, 1952, identifies her as " Joyce Ann Murray" ; the decedent, Robert Murray, as " Father" ; and Margaret Polk as " Mother." [1] Robert was 17 years old when Joyce was born, and under Arkansas law, he could not marry without parental consent. After Robert turned 19, he married then-21-year-old Margaret in Jefferson County, Arkansas. Robert and Margaret moved to Las Vegas, Nevada, in the early 1950s, where together they raised Joyce. The couple remained married until Margaret's death in 1990. In his lifetime, Robert never commenced proceedings to formally establish or challenge his status as Joyce's father.

Robert died intestate in August 2012 in Las Vegas at the age of 80. The assets of his estate were derived from his and Margaret's nearly 40-year marriage. His obituary identified Joyce as his sole living child, and Joyce arranged and paid for Robert's funeral services.

Nevertheless, a few months later, Robert's sister and nephew, appellants Polly O'Neal and Gary Stinnett, respectively, filed an ex parte petition for appointment as special administrators of Robert's estate. The ex parte petition identified Robert's siblings and their issue as his heirs under NRS 134.060 (stating that when there exists no issue, surviving spouse, or father or mother, a decedent's estate goes to the decedent's siblings and their issue); Joyce was identified as Robert's stepdaughter. The district court entered an order making appellants co-administrators of the estate.

Probate proceedings

Upon learning of appellants' appointment, Joyce filed a petition for revocation of the letters of special administration and for appointment as the special administrator. Joyce asserted that appellants' appointment was the product of a misrepresentation to the court, namely, that she was the decedent's " stepdaughter," rather than his daughter. Joyce also argued that, as Robert's child, she had priority in appointment. Joyce attached to the petition a certified copy of her Arkansas delayed birth certificate and her affidavit. Joyce later provided affidavits from her mother's siblings, which stated that their sister and the decedent had held themselves out as a married couple when Joyce was born and that the decedent had always treated Joyce as his daughter.

Appellants responded to Joyce's petition for revocation and argued that the Arkansas birth certificate was invalid; that Joyce's claim of paternity did not satisfy ...


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