Within two years of Walter Brown, Sr.'s death, his widow Corine Brown petitioned his estate for a year's support. The estate's executor and the Browns' minor children objected, arguing that she had already elected to take two real property bequests under his will in lieu of a year's support. They urged that (1) her receipt of the will which expressly set forth that the bequests were in lieu of her year's support, (2) her receipt of a deed from the executor granting her the real property interests so devised, (3) her subsequent payment of property taxes on the real estate parcels, and (4) her receipt since September 1997 of the rental income from the income-producing property established as a matter of law that she had knowingly elected to take the bequests in lieu of her right to a year's support. The probate court agreed and granted summary judgment in favor of the estate on Mrs. Brown's petition.
1. Former OCGA 53-5-5 1
provided that "[a] testator by his will may make provision for his spouse in lieu of year's support, in which case the surviving spouse must make an election." Where such a provision has been made and accepted by the wife after the husband's death, her right to a year's support is barred. 2
"It is well settled that a widow is entitled to a full disclosure of her rights and the condition of the estate before any agreement or election on her part as to the division of the estate is binding." 3
Thus, even though a widow elects to take a bequest in lieu of year's support, "she is not bound by such election, if made in ignorance of the condition of his estate or of any other fact material to her interest." 4
Absent undisputed evidence that the widow had the required knowledge at the time of her election, summary adjudication in favor of the estate is unauthorized. 5
Setting aside whether the evidence unequivocally showed that Mrs. Brown made an election, 6
we note that Mrs. Brown, who had only six years of formal education, was seventy-six when the will was offered for probate in solemn form. She testified that she was unaware of her year's support rights at the time of the alleged election, and the executor presented no evidence that Mrs. Brown knew the condition of the estate at that time. On this record, the court could not grant summary judgment against Mrs. Brown.
2. The executor then argues that since Mrs. Brown had been separated from Mr. Brown for 21 years at the time of his death, during which time he had provided her no financial support, no year's support is due. Separation of a legally married couple does not deprive the widow of her right to a year's support from his estate. 7
Conversely, the widow's economic dependency on the husband prior to his death is no longer relevant in determining whether she is entitled to a year's support. 8
Rather, "entitlement to a year's support award is a matter of status. . . . When one establishes that he or she is the spouse of the deceased, eligibility for year's support is also established." 9
Of course, at that point the amount of the award becomes a separate inquiry, 10
based on the factors set forth in former OCGA 53-5-2
(c). This is an equitable, fact-based determination that should be done on a full record. 11
Even if after applying these factors the court determines no money is due, the former Code section mandated a minimum payment of $1,600 to the widow. 12
Summary judgment against Mrs. Brown was accordingly unauthorized.
ON MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION.
The other points raised in the motion are already addressed in the text of our opinion. The estate's motion for reconsideration is denied.
Hunter, Maclean, Exley & Dunn, Mills L. Morrison, Robert A. Lewallen, Jr., for appellee.