Husband of NMD gets half share in Koblerville property for 55 years

THE Superior Court has issued an order allowing the surviving spouse of a person of Northern Marianas descent to have a 50-percent interest in her Koblerville property.

William Aguon Nauta Sr., a non-NMD, earlier petitioned the court for a half interest in his wife’s Koblerville property. Nauta Sr. is the administrator of his wife Elpidia Dela Cruz Nauta’s estate.

Her sons, William Jr., Kenneth, and John, are also NMDs.

An NMD is a person who is a citizen of the United States and has at least some degree of Northern Marianas Chamorro or Northern Marianas Carolinian blood or a combination thereof.

According to the CNMI Constitution, only persons of NMD may own real property in the commonwealth.

Judge Joseph N. Camacho, in his order, stated that the key issue is whether William Sr., as the surviving spouse and a non-NMD, is prohibited from acquiring an interest in the Koblerville property which his wife owned.

The judge designated the Koblerville property as non-ancestor land for purposes of intestate succession.

He said the husband, William Sr., is entitled to a one-half interest in the Koblerville property. The law makes no distinction as to whether the surviving spouse must be an NMD, the judge added.

Moreover, he said, a surviving spouse’s non-NMD status has no effect on his or her ability to inherit a leasehold interest in non-ancestor land.

The decedent’s sons cited a previous court ruling that prohibited a non-NMD from having an interest in land that surviving heirs are eligible to own land in the commonwealth in fee simple.

But Judge Camacho said the decedent’s sons misunderstood the court’s previous ruling.

He said the CNMI Supreme Court held that in the event a decedent is survived by a spouse who is not of NMD and leaves no issue, that surviving spouse is able to take the entire estate in fee simple.

According to Judge Camacho, the CNMI Supreme Court reasoned that a non-NMD surviving spouse taking ownership of land in fee simple survives challenges under Article XII of the Commonwealth Constitution because eventually he or she must convey his or her fee simple interest to an NMD.

The judge said William Sr. is entitled to a one-half share in the Koblerville property and the remaining one-half interest “shall be an equal undivided share among [Mrs. Nauta’s] three sons.”

But although the court finds that William Sr., as the surviving spouse, is entitled to an undivided one-half interest in the Koblerville property, the Commonwealth Constitution requires that such interest be limited to a term of 55 years, the judge said.