Non-NMD surviving spouse gets half of property

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CNMI Superior Court Associate Judge Joseph N. Camacho issued an order giving a non-Northern Marianas Descent half of the property left by his deceased spouse, who was an NMD.

Elpidia Dela Cruz Nauta, an NMD, died without a will. She was married to William Sr. and had three sons, William Jr., Kenneth, and John. Questions regarding how Nauta’s estate should be distributed centered on two properties on Saipan and one in Long Beach, California

Under Article XII of the CNMI Constitution, only persons who can trace their ancestry to the Northern Mariana Islands are eligible to own land outright in the CNMI. Persons who are not NMD, such as Nauta’s husband, William Sr., are at most eligible to hold 55-year leaseholds.

Citing two statutes and a case precedent, Camacho last Dec. 1 ordered that the first Saipan property, located in Koblerville, be divided with half going to Nauta’s husband, either for the remainder of his life or for a maximum of 55 years, and the other half being divided equally among her three sons.

When William Sr. dies, the whole property will belong to the three sons in equal portions.

Distribution of the second Saipan property in Chalan Piao (composed of two adjacent properties) was further complicated when the survivors had authorized a third party, Dr. Ignacio T. Dela Cruz, to negotiate a lease of the property. This lease produced revenue worth more than $650,000.

As written, the lease distributed the proceeds equally in 25 percent shares to each of the four survivors. While son Kenneth argued that William Sr., lacking NMD status, was not eligible to inherit any of the proceeds, William Sr. countered that he was entitled to half.

Ultimately, Camacho decided that Dela Cruz exceeded the scope of his authority when he signed the lease on behalf of the three sons, meaning the lease remains unsigned. It is unclear, at this point, where this leaves the disposition of the Chalan Piao properties.

Camacho ordered that the property in California is not subject to Article XII, and therefore should be shared equally by William Sr. and son Kenneth. In another ruling, Camacho stated that there was no advancement on Kenneth’s interest in the Long Beach property and does not affect the distribution of the Saipan properties.

Bea Cabrera
Bea Cabrera, who holds a law degree, also has a bachelor's degree in mass communications. She has been exposed to multiple aspects of mass media, doing sales, marketing, copywriting, and photography.

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