WHEN DECEDENT WIFE HAS NMD CHILDREN

‘Article 12 prohibits non-NMD widower from inheriting land’

Superior Court Associate Judge Joseph N. Camacho has ruled that a non-Northern Marianas Descent widower cannot inherit lands of his decedent wife, who was an NMD and has NMD children.

In an order issued Friday granting a motion to reconsider, Camacho said the CNMI Constitution, Article 12, Section 2 prohibits a non-NMD surviving spouse from inheriting land when a decedent has NMD issue who can own land.

The judge ruled that since decedent Elphidia Dela Cruz Nauta is survived by issue who are NMD and thus able to own land in the Commonwealth, the spouse, William A. Nauta Sr., who is a person of non-NMD, cannot acquire an interest in her Koblerville and Chalan Piao properties.

Camacho said issue is a term of art meaning “lineal descendants of all generations, with the relationship of parent and child at each generation being determined by the definitions of child and parent.”

Camacho said based upon a finding of clear error in his previous order, he must grant the motion for reconsideration filed by Kenneth DLC Nauta, one of her three sons.

Elpidia Dela Cruz Nauta was a person of NMD. Her surviving spouse, William A. Nauta Sr., is a person of non-NMD.

Elpidia Nauta was survived by three sons, William Nauta Jr., Kenneth Nauta, and John Nauta who are NMDs like their mother.

Kenneth, through counsel Brien Sers Nicholas, filed a motion for reconsideration that asks the Superior Court reconsider two prior orders relating to property in the decedent’s estate.

The first prior order pertains to decedent’s property in Koblerville, while the second order is regarding decedent’s properties in Chalan Piao.

In the Koblerville order, the court previously held that William Sr., as the surviving non-NMD spouse, may inherit a portion of a lot in Koblerville.

The court then ordered that the property shall be distributed to William Sr. an undivided one-half share, for his life, but in no event longer than 55 years, and the vested remainder in fee simple to William Jr., Kenneth, and John, in equal and undivided shares.

The court ordered that the property shall be distributed to William Jr., Kenneth, and John in fee simple in equal and undivided shares on an undivided one-half share in undivided one-eight interest.

In the Chalan Piao order, the court previously found that William Sr. could inherit an interest in two lots in Chalan Piao.

Despite this, Camacho previously found that the ground lease as to the properties was unsigned, so the court did not make any order as to how the properties should actually be distributed.

Kenneth’s motion for reconsideration asks the court reconsider whether William Sr., as a non-NMD surviving spouse, may inherit an interest in property on Saipan.

In particular, whether William Sr. may inherit when decedent is survived by issue who are able to hold land in the CNMI.

Kenneth, through counsel Nicholas, argued that allowing William Sr. to take any property interest in the Koblerville and Chalan Piao properties is both a clear error and a manifest injustice.

In granting the motion for reconsideration, Camacho said the Commonwealth Constitution states: “A transfer to a spouse by inheritance is not an acquisition under this section if the owner dies without issue or with issue not eligible to own land in the NMI.”

Camacho said in his prior order addressing whether William Sr. could inherit an interest in the Koblerville and Chalan Piao properties, he looked for guidance to the CNMI Supreme Court’s ruling in the estate of Tudela case.

Camacho said under Tudela, in a “typical situation, when a decedent leaves a spouse, he will also leave issue, and each will take half.”

He said in his prior order he then found that William Sr., as the non-NMD surviving spouse, took half of the property, with the decedent’s NMD issue taking the remaining half.

Camacho said he, however, in that order limited William Sr.’s inheritance to a term of 55 years, pursuant to Article 12 of the CNMI Constitution.

Camacho said his prior ruling was in clear error.

He said although the Tudela case provides for a non-NMD surviving spouse to inherit property in the CNMI, the decedent in Tudela did not have issue who could inherit land in the Commonwealth.

Camacho said this case is different from Tudela, because decedent Elpidia Nauta has children who are NMD and can inherit land.

“The court’s reliance upon Tudela under these circumstances was misplaced,” the judge pointed out.

Camacho said as he has found clear error in the previous orders, the court need not reach the issue of manifest injustice.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com

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