Society

Utah Supreme Court Rules In Favor Of Woman's Marriage To Dead Husband

| by Will Hagle

The Utah Supreme Court has ruled that a woman's marriage to her husband, who died in 2010 at the age of 78, was legal even though it took place after he died. The woman, Janetta Gardiner, had been in a relationship with Kenneth Vanderwerff from 2007 until the time of his death. 

According to Fox 13, Gardiner filed for “a  judicial declaration of common law marriage” one month after Vanderwerff died. A judge approved the marriage and made Gardiner executor of Vanderwerff’s estate. The ruling was only contested when Vanderwerff’s relatives — first a stepson from his first marriage, then four of his cousins — challenged Gardiner. At the time of his death, Vanderwerff had no next of kin. Based on the terms of Vanderwerff’s will, Gardiner was appointed as personal representative of his estate.

A district court had previously ruled in favor of Vanderwerff’s cousins and dismissed Gardiner’s posthumous marriage, and the case subsequently progressed to Utah’s highest court.

The Utah Supreme Court’s conclusion reads as follows:

In sum, we hold that the district court erred when it allowed the Cousins to intervene, set aside the declaration of marriage, and then dismissed the case. Where a petitioner seeks a posthumous determination of an unsolemnized marriage, he or she must serve process upon the estate of the deceased. In this case, Ms. Gardiner waived service on behalf of the estate as the personal representative of Mr. Vanderwerff. The court erroneously concluded that Ms. Gardiner failed to validly effectuate service. Because the court allowed the Cousins to intervene, granted their rule 60(b) motion to set aside the marriage declaration, and then dismissed the case on its own initiative all on the basis of that error, we reverse those decisions and reinstate the September 13, 2010, declaration of marriage between Ms. Gardiner and Mr. Vanderwerff.

Sources: Fox 13 Salt Lake City, Utah Supreme Court / Photo Credit: Fox 13 Salt Lake City