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Is Susan Cox Powell still alive? It’s the question at the heart of an estate feud

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Posted at 11:36 AM, Jul 08, 2014
and last updated 2014-07-08 19:32:09-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Is missing West Valley City mom Susan Cox Powell still alive?

That question is at the heart of a legal feud over her estate and more than $2 million in life insurance policies. Lawyers for Josh Powell's mother and a sister are challenging decisions made by Susan Cox Powell's father, Chuck Cox, to the couple's estate.

After Susan's disappearance and Josh Powell's death, Chuck Cox was made a conservator over the estate. He made changes to the trust, effectively cutting out the Powell family.

But Utah law only allows for changes to be made "in the event of incapacity," 3rd District Court Judge L.A. Dever said, noting that no one has declared Susan legally dead.

Susan Cox Powell vanished from her West Valley City home in December 2009. She has never been found, and her husband, Josh Powell, was considered a suspect in her disappearance. He killed himself and the couple's children in an explosion in Washington state in 2012.

Powell family attorney Joshua Lee insisted that no one could make changes to the Trust until it was determined that Susan was incapacitated. He also accused Chuck Cox of a "serious conflict-of-interest" as a beneficiary of the estate.

"We all know Josh Powell did some awful things and Mr. Cox has suffered greatly for that," Lee told the judge, rattling off the many things Josh Powell was accused of.

But he urged the court to think of Josh Powell's mother, Terrica Powell, who also suffered.

"She lost two sons, and two grandsons and her daughter-in-law. It's been a horrible ordeal for her as well," he said.

Judge Dever noted that the Powells stood to gain if Susan Cox Powell were to be declared dead.

"If Susan Cox Powell is alive, your clients have nothing," he said.

The Cox family's attorney said Chuck Cox is doing what he has the authority to under the law as Susan's conservator.

"Susan is assumed to be alive," said Ted Buck. "The conservator intends to maintain her estate until either she comes back or is proven to not be alive."

Judge Dever took the issue under advisement, promising to issue a ruling in writing at a later date. He did rule that Cox did not have to post a bond to insure there is money in the estate, ruling that there was no evidence of mismanagement.

The issue of Susan's death -- or not -- may be decided in December. There is a provision of Utah law that allows for a missing person to be declared legally dead after five years. December will mark five years since Susan vanished.

Outside of court, Chuck Cox expressed hope.

"To me, she's alive until there's evidence otherwise," he told FOX 13. "And I want to take care of her assets."