HELENA (AP) - The daughters of the late CBS News correspondent Charles Kuralt must pay $350,000 in estate taxes on land their father left to his secret mistress, the state Supreme Court has ruled.
A unanimous five-judge panel on Monday said Kuralt's 1994 will clearly indicated he wanted his estate to pay such taxes, rather than those to whom he bequeathed property.
The decision, which upheld a lower-court order, resolved the last remaining dispute between Kuralt's daughters and Pat Shannon, with whom Kuralt had a secret, 30-year relationship.
Shannon's attorney, Jim Goetz of Bozeman, said Tuesday his client was "elated" by the ruling.
"As far as I know, there is no other recourse for the daughters now. I assume this will put this to rest," he said.
Gary Bjelland, a Great Falls attorney who represented Kuralt's daughters, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Tuesday.
Kuralt was known to millions of Americans as the folksy, plump reporter who described the lives of ordinary and outstanding Americans to TV viewers on such popular programs as "On the Road With Charles Kuralt" and "Sunday Morning." He died in 1997 of complications of lupus, a chronic inflammatory disease.
Shortly before his death, Kuralt wrote a letter to Shannon giving her the 90 acres of prime fishing land along Montana's Big Hole River. The couple had built a cabin on the land and moved an old school house there that was renovated into a study and library.
Kuralt's wife of 35 years, Suzanne "Petie" Baird Kuralt of New York City, found out her husband had been leading a double life only after his death. She inherited his estate but died in 1999, and the estate was passed on to Kuralt's daughters from his first marriage.
Susan Bowers and Lisa Bowers White contested the letter to Shannon as a valid addition to their father's will. In December 2000, the state's high court agreed with Shannon that Kuralt intended by the letter to give her the land.
The legal battle continued over who should pay the federal estate taxes on the property. Those involved in the case have estimated the amount due at $350,000.
Bowers and White, representing their father's estate, argued that Kuralt's letter did not address the tax issue in regard to the Big Hole property, so Shannon and not the estate should pay the taxes.
The Supreme Court disagreed, pointing to a provision in Kuralt's will written in 1994 that spelled out that any taxes related to his death should be paid by the recipients of his estate.
Generally estate taxes are apportioned according to the value of inherited property given to each heir. But an exception occurs if a will gives specific directions about who should pay the taxes.
The high court said Kuralt's will required all estate taxes be paid by the estate "without apportionment" and that settled the issue.
Justice Jim Rice, writing for the court, said that "Shannon satisfied the burden of proving that Kuralt's will directs, clearly and unambiguously ... against statutory apportionment and that all estate taxes are to be paid by the residual estate, including those generated by the bequest of the Big Hole property to Shannon."