Articles Posted in Iowa Supreme Court

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David Steinberg and Steven Steinberg, brothers and the sole beneficiaries of the Steinberg Family Living Trust, requested a declaration of how a Minnesota farm and an Iowa farm should be distributed. The Minnesota farm, which was part of the trust, was acquired after the creation of the trust through a like-kind tax exchange of property. The exchanged property was specifically bequeathed to Steven but the acquired farm was not specifically bequeathed to either beneficiary. The district court ordered the Minnesota farm to be distributed equally between the brothers, concluding that the specific bequest was adeemed because the bequeathed parcel of land was no longer an asset of the trust and there was no exception to the doctrine of ademption for the like-kind tax exchange of property. The court also struck a provision of the trust granting Steven the option to purchase the Iowa farm from David. The Supreme Court (1) affirmed the district court’s decision to the extent the court declared the specific bequest to Steven was adeemed and concluded that the Minnesota farm was to be distributed equally between the brothers; and (2) reversed the decision to the extent it granted summary judgment to David on the disputed trust provision due to genuine issues of material fact. View "Steinberg v. Steinberg" on Justia Law

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Joseph Gantner died in 2015, survived by his wife, Rachel Gantner, and two daughters, Meredith and Paige Gantner. After Joseph’s will was admitted to probate, Rachel filed for an elective share of Joseph’s estate and also requested a spousal support allowance. Meredith and Paige resisted Rachel’s application for spousal support, maintaining that several individual retirement accounts (IRAs) did not constitute part of the probate estate and, therefore, were beyond the reach of Rachel’s spousal allowance. As relevant to this appeal, Rachel was not a beneficiary of those IRAs. Rather, the executor confirmed that Meredith and Paige were their cobeneficaries. The probate court denied Rachel’s application for spousal allowance, concluding that the IRAs could not be used to pay an allowance to Rachel, who was not a beneficiary of those IRAs. Rachel appealed, arguing that she may reach the IRAs because they were “a transfer at death of a security registered in beneficiary form” under Iowa Code 633D.8. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that chapter 633D does not apply to an IRA where one or more nonspouses are designated the beneficiaries. View "In re Estate of Joseph C. Gantner III" on Justia Law

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Testator executed a last will and testament devising property to her adult son and daughter. After the will was executed but before Testator’s death, Son was adopted by his paternal aunt. After Testator’s death, Daughter filed this action seeking a declaratory judgment establishing that the adoption terminated Son’s ability to inherit under Mother’s will, which identified him as a beneficiary both by name and by membership in a class. The district court concluded that Son’s adoption out of his biological family did not preclude him from taking under Mother’s will. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the testamentary gift to Son as a named beneficiary and as a member of a class did not fail because of his adoption as an adult after Testator executed her will. View "Roll v. Newhall" on Justia Law

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Arnold and Vesta Melby were trustors of separate irrevocable trusts. Both Arnold and Vesta received Medicaid benefits. After the Melbys’ deaths, the Iowa Department of Human Services notified Arnold’s estate that it would seek reimbursement for all Medicaid expenses it had paid on behalf of Arnold and Vesta. The Department then filed an application in the estate seeking a judgment declaring the Melbys had interests in the corpus of their trusts that should be counted as assets available for repayment of the Department’s Medicaid claim. The district court concluded (1) the Melbys’ interests in the trusts were limited to their right to receive the net income from the trusts’ assets, and (2) the Department’s right to recover the Medicaid payments could be enforced against such income, but not against the corpus of the trusts. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the Department’s right to recover Medicaid payments under the facts of this case extended beyond the Melbys’ net income interests; and (2) the district court erred in determining the scope of medical assistance for which recovery was authorized by the general assembly. Remanded. View "In re Estate of Melby" on Justia Law

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Defendant, a financial advisor to Decedent, was sued by identified beneficiaries of Decedent’s signed written estate plan. The beneficiaries alleged that Defendant was negligent in the performance of his duties, and therefore, the beneficiaries did not receive what they were supposed to receive under the plan. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendant, concluding that Defendant, a non-attorney, owed no duty to the beneficiaries. The Supreme Court (1) reversed the judgment entered against plaintiff Steve Bristol and his spouse, holding that Bristol was owed a duty by Defendant and that Bristol raised a genuine of material fact as to whether Defendant’s negligent performance of his agency responsibilities caused Bristol not to receive a specific devise set forth in Decedent’s will; and (2) affirmed the judgment with respect to the charitable recipient plaintiffs, as their damages were too speculative to establish damages. View "St. Malachy Roman Catholic Congregation of Geneseo, Ill. v. Ingram" on Justia Law

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The parties in this case, William and Steven Burkhalter, were the sons of Louis Burkhalter. William challenged an unfavorable modification of Louis's revocable trust that occurred just before Louis's death, claiming (1) Steven unduly influenced Louis and tortiously interfered with the trust, and (2) Louis lacked the necessary testamentary intent when he made the modification. The district court directed a verdict for Steven on the tortious interference claim, and the jury returned a verdict for Steven on the testamentary capacity and undue influence claims. The court of appeals remanded the case for a new trial on the undue influence claim, concluding that the district court erroneously instructed the jury on undue influence, and the error prejudiced William. The Supreme Court vacated the decision of the court of appeals and reinstated the jury verdict on the undue influence claim, holding that the district court's instruction accurately reflected the law of undue influence and did not unduly emphasize the causation element of the undue influence claim. View "Burkhalter v. Burkhalter" on Justia Law

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Husband died in 1993, and his will was probated. Wife received almost all of Husband's property pursuant to a residuary clause in the will. In 2011, Wife died. Subsequently, several relatives (Relatives) who had not been formally notified of the 1993 probate proceedings reviewed Husband's will. Relatives brought an action to reopen the estate, claiming that a different residuary clause in Husband's will entitled them to Husband's property. The coexecutors of Wife's estate filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting that the petition was time-barred under Iowa Prob Code 633.488, which states that a party who did not receive formal notice of the final report and accounting has five years from the final report to reopen settlement of an estate. The district court denied the motion, concluding that section 633.489, which allows estates to be reopened without time limit under certain circumstances, governed Relatives' claim. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that section 633.488 was the applicable statute in this case. Remanded. View "In re Estate of Sampson" on Justia Law

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Carl Hord's will created the Carl Hord Trust and directed that Carl's undivided one-half interest in 210 acres of farmland would pass to his niece and nephews upon the death of his wife, Lois, whom Carl named as a life beneficiary of the trust. The will also contained a spendthrift clause. While Lois was alive, five of the six remainder beneficiaries executed quitclaim deeds to Lois. Lois's will bequeathed her entire interest in the farmland to Waugh, including the remainder interests acquired from her nephews and niece. After Lois died, the remainder beneficiaries learned for the first time of the spendthrift clause. The beneficiaries filed a petition for construction of the trust and intervened in the probate action regarding Lois's estate, arguing that the spendthrift clause rendered their assignments and quitclaims deeds void. The probate court held that the beneficiaries' right to revoke their assignments terminated at Lois's death. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the applicable statute of limitations barred the remainder beneficiaries from enforcing the terms of the spendthrift clause of Carl's will. View "In re Estate of Hord" on Justia Law

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Decedent's last will and testament and her correspondence with family members included specific directions to bury her in a plot she had already purchased at a cemetery in Montana. Decedent's surviving husband, Appellant, sought to bury her in Iowa and claimed the sole right to decide because Decedent had never executed a declaration under the Final Disposition Act designating anyone else to make that decision. The probate court granted a motion by the executor of Decedent's estate compelling burial in Montana. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the operative statutory language requires enforcement of the surviving spouse's decision; and (2) therefore, the probate court erred in concluding that Decedent's wishes trumped her surviving husband's right to control disposition of her remains under the Final Disposition Act. View "In re Estate of Whalen" on Justia Law

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This dispute centered around a revocable trust Settlor created during her lifetime. Settlor was the trustee of the trust until shortly before her death, when she substituted Judith Cunningham as trustee. After Settlor died, Marylynn Miller, a beneficiary, asked the probate court to order Cunningham to account for the activities of the trust since her appointment and to order Cunningham to reimburse her for attorney fees. Upon the probate court's order, Cunningham rendered the accounting. The probate court then ordered Cunningham to personally pay attorney fees and costs incurred during the course of the proceeding. The Supreme Court (1) reversed the ruling that Cunningham had a duty to account to Miller for the period preceding Settlor's death, as, pursuant to Iowa Code 633A.3103, the settlor alone is entitled to accounting for the period the trust is revocable; and (2) reversed the order requiring Cunningham to personally pay the fees and costs incurred litigating that issue, as there was no evidence Cunningham was guilty of malfeasance, fraud, or abuse. View "In re Trust of Trimble" on Justia Law