SALT LAKE CITY — A 3rd District judge has ruled in favor of Susan Powell's father, Chuck Cox, in his fight over conservatorship of his daughter's life insurance money.
Judge L.A. Dever on Wednesday denied a request by Terrica and Alina Powell, Josh Powell's mother and sister, to void Cox's declaration making him the sole beneficiary of a trust Josh and Susan Powell set up, effectively cutting out Terrica and Alina Powell as beneficiaries of $2.3 million in life insurance proceeds.
Susan Powell is presumed to have been murdered by her husband, Josh Powell. Her body, however, has never been found. Josh Powell later killed himself and the couple's two young sons.
But Dever also found several faults with Cox's legal arguments and seemed to indicate in his ruling that the reason he was ruling in his favor is because the Powells simply waited too long to file their appeal.
Dever found fault with Cox's argument that his daughter was legally "incapacitated" because he did not provide required proof of her incapacity.
"The court is not persuaded by Cox's argument," the judge wrote in his decision. "Cox fails to provide any legal basis that the language he used in his Motion for Order somehow infers a finding of incapacity in the order."
Nevertheless, Cox's attorney Anne Bremner said the family is grateful, relieved and believes justice has been served.
"It's a good day in memory of Susan," Bremner said. "It seems like every time something has happened in the case, what seems to be a little quieting down, it just gets worse. It's been years and years of a lot of difficulty."
Terrica and Alina Powell have the option to appeal the decision, though Bremner said she is unsure whether they will.
The judge said Cox misconstrued Utah law as it applies to conservatorship and scolded him for failing "to provide any legitimate argument" for why he was not required to follow the requirements of the trust.
"Cox was appointed conservator of Susan's estate because of a qualifying event, i.e., her disappearance," the judge wrote.
One of the key issues in the case was when Susan Powell, who has been missing from her West Valley home since 2009, would be declared legally dead.
"It is undisputed that pursuant to the laws of this state that Susan is not dead and therefore, is deemed the 'surviving grantor,'" Dever stated in his ruling.
Under state law, a person must be missing a minimum of five years in order to be declared legally dead. Powell disappeared on Dec. 6, 2009.
Nevertheless, the judge said he could not overlook the fact that Cox was granted conservatorship over his daughter's estate by another judge in January of 2013, as well as "the fact that the Powells did not file any objection or motion" until September of that year.
Thus, Cox had the power under the January 2013 ruling to amend the trust as he saw fit, and because Dever said he was not asked to rule on the validity of that ruling, he denied the Powells' request.
In May, a federal judge in Washington issued an order dividing the money from three separate life insurance policies tied to Josh and Susan Powell. The proceeds would presumably be deposited in the trust when Susan Powell is declared dead in December.
As sole beneficiary of the trust, Cox would receive 100 percent of the money, or about $2.3 million. Josh Powell's mother would still receive more than $756,000 from the other policies.
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