Paul L. Kurth died in Missoula, Montana on January 26, 2000; he was 82 years old. At the time of his death he was living with his niece and her husband, Sinda and Marty Puryer. According to Mr. Puryer, two years prior to Mr. Kurth’s death, Mr. Kurth dictated his will to Mr. Puryer. In the will, entitled “Instructions and Last Will and Testament of Paul L. Kurth,” Mr. Kurth left everything he owned to the Puryers. The will was signed by Mr. Kurth and witnessed by Mr. Puryer and a long term care giver. In 2001, a year after Mr. Kurth’s death, Mrs. Puryer hired an attorney to administer Mr. Kurth’s estate. The attorney collected the personal assets of Mr. Kurth’s estate and distributed them to the Puryers, according to the holographic will of Mr. Kurth’s and an affidavit signed by Mrs. Puryer attesting to the legitimacy of the will. Past that point of administration, the Puryers never formally probated Mr. Kurth’s will.
In addition to the Mr. Kurth’s personal property, he held a real property interest in mineral rights in eastern Montana. In 2013, thirteen years after Mr. Kurth’s death, an oil and gas company contacted Bruce Barstis, one of Mr. Kurth’s nephews, in hopes of leasing the minerals. Mr. Barstis promptly retained an attorney and notified all of Mr. Kurth’s heirs (he was never married and had no children, he was survived by three siblings and nine nieces and nephews) that his estate needed to be probated to effect the transfer of his real property interest. Mr. Barstis offered to act as the estate’s personal representative. As soon as Mr. Puryer received the notice from Mr. Barstis he filed a Petition for Formal Probate of Will and Appointment of Personal Representative.
Mr. Barstis challenged the alleged will on multiple grounds, including that the time for probate had passed and that the exceptions to the time frame did not apply. According to §72-3-122(1), a will must be probated within three years after the death of the decedent with some exceptions. If the will is not probated within that time frame and does not fit into one of the exceptions, then the will cannot be accepted for probate and the decedent is considered to have died intestate, meaning without a will. The District Court held that the time to probate the will had expired and that the Puryers did not meet the exceptions; therefore, Mr. Kurth died intestate and the estate must proceed under Montana intestacy statutes. The Puryers appealed the decision. The Supreme Court of the State of Montana affirmed the District Court’s decision.