Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Iowa Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming a probate court ruling that a restriction on the transfer of devise property was a restraint on alienation and void, holding that the provision was a prohibited restraint on alienation and void.The testamentary provision in this case restricted the beneficiaries from selling or transferring the devised property outside their immediate family for a period of twenty years following the testator's death. The district court ultimately held that the restriction on the property was an invalid restraint on alienation and void. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the restriction was a restraint on alienation and that reasonable restraints on alienation are not allowed under Iowa law. View "Estate of Vera E. Cawiezell v. Coronelli" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the ruling of the district court finding that an amended pleading by the Estate of Francis O. Glaser related back to its original pleading and therefore permitted an additional conveyance to be set aside after the statute of limitations had lapsed, holding that the district court erred in concluding that the late amendment related back to the date of the original motion.The Estate in this case attempted to void a predate transfer of farm property by Glaser to a friend. In order to do so, at the close of the evidence, the Estate filed a motion to amend the original motion to set aside property conveyances that failed to mention the farm property. The district court permitted the late amendment and found that the amendment related back to the filing of the original motion. Therefore, the court concluded that the claim was not barred by the applicable statute of limitations and that the challenged conveyances should be set aside. The Supreme Court held, like the court of appeals, that the late claim to set aside the farm property was barred by the applicable statute of limitations. View "Kindsfather v. Bowling" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of the district court on declaratory judgment declining to adjudicate the validity of two wills the ward, who was still alive, executed while he was in a voluntary conservatorship, holding that neither Iowa Code 633.637 nor other provisions of the Probate Code permit a challenge to the validity of a will executed by a testator who is still living.The ward's sister and her husband (together, Petitioners) brought this action to determine the validity of the ward's two wills. The conservator bank moved to dismiss the action, arguing that Petitioners lacked standing to challenge the wills while the testator was still alive. The district court denied the motion to dismiss but limited the scope of the action to a determination of the ward's present testamentary capacity. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) will contests must await the testator's death, and the Probate Code does not allow this declaratory judgment action to proceed; and (2) the district court erred by ordering Petitioners to pay the conservator's attorney fees without an applicable fee-shifting statute. View "In re Guardianship & Conservatorship of Radda" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment in favor of Plaintiff in this will contest, holding that a claim alleging that the decedent's will resulted from tortious interference by a beneficiary must be joined with a timely will contest and otherwise is barred.Mother and Father died within one day of each other, and their 2014 mirror wills were probated. Plaintiff decided to forgo a timely contest to Mother's will but then later brought a suit for tortious interference against a Beneficiary of the will, arguing that the Beneficiary exercised improper and undue influence over Mother. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Plaintiff. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the common law and principles of claim preclusion do not permit a tortious interference with inheritance claim alleging an improperly obtained will to go forward outside normal probate deadlines and proceedings; and (2) Plaintiff's tortious interference claim was a de facto substitute for a will contest based on undue influence and was thus barred because it was not brought in conjunction with a timely will contest. View "Youngblut v. Youngblut" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court ruling that Plaintiffs' claim seeking contract damages was barred by the limitations period set forth in Iowa Code 614.17A, holding that the district court erred in granting summary judgment.John and Dessie Rottinghaus filed a claim in the Estate of Sandra Franken, alleging that the Estate sold certain real estate in violation of their right of first refusal to purchase the real estate. The executor disallowed the claim and moved for summary judgment, claiming that section 614.17A barred the Rottinghauses' claim. The district court granted the motion for summary judgment, concluding that the statute of limitations precluded the Rottinghauses' claim for damages. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) section 614.17A applies only to actions seeking to recover or establish an interest in or claim to real estate filed against the holder of the record title; and (2) neither the merger doctrine, the statute of frauds, the indirect effect of section 614.17A, nor the statute of limitations in section 614.1(5) barred the Rottinghauses' damages action. View "In re Estate of Franken" on Justia Law

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In this intrafamily dispute regarding farmland the Supreme Court affirmed the rulings of the district court denying substitute petitioners' petition for relief from elder abuse specifically seeking relief for the loss associated with certain real estate transactions, holding that the substitute petitioners failed to prove that their father was a vulnerable elder at the time of the challenged transactions.The substitute petitioners for their father filed this petition pursuant to Iowa Code 235F alleging that their brother and his son committed elder abuse against their father by unduly influencing the father to enter into below-mark-rate lease agreements to farm the father's land, to gift some of the land to the brother and his son, and to write a new will to reflect the gifted land. The district court concluded that the substitute petitioners failed to establish that their father was a "vulnerable elder" subject to "financial exploitation" within the meaning of chapter 235F. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the substitute petitioners filed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that their father was vulnerable elder at the time of the challenged transactions. View "Struve v. Struve" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the decision of the court of appeals affirming the district court's denial of Defendant's motion for summary judgment, reversed the decision of the district court, and remanded to the district court for entry of summary judgment in favor of Defendants, holding that Plaintiffs' action was untimely.Plaintiffs, two beneficiaries of a trust, filed an action asking the district court to resolve a dispute with Defendant concerning the valuation date of the trust. Defendants moved for summary judgment on the grounds that Plaintiffs' action was untimely and the terms of the trust clearly provided the valuation date. The district court denied the motion. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed the denial of summary judgment, holding that Plaintiffs failed timely to commence their action, and therefore, their claims were barred under Iowa Code 633A.4504. View "Konrardy v. Vincent Angerer Trust" on Justia Law

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The court of appeals erred in ruling that a taxpayer avoided in Iowa inheritance tax through a private postmortem family settlement agreement (FSA).Here, the decedent, before his death, signed a beneficiary form listing the taxpayer as a contingent beneficiary of his brokerage account. That account transferred to the taxpayer upon the decedent's death. The Iowa Department of Revenue (IDOR) determined that the estate owed the inheritance tax on the full account value. The decedent’s grandchildren sued the taxpayer claiming that they were entitled to the brokerage account under the decedent’s will because the decedent lacked the mental capacity to execute an enforceable beneficiary designation for the account. The taxpayer settled the suit by transferring half the account value to the plaintiffs under an FSA. The taxpayer then sought a refund of part of the inheritance tax already paid. The IDOR denied a refund, determining that the taxpayer failed to establish incapacity. The district court affirmed. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the FSA controlled the tax issue. The Supreme Court vacated the decision of the court of appeals and affirmed the district court judgment, holding that, without an adjudication of incapacity, the FSA was not binding on the IDOR and could not avoid the inheritance tax. View "Nance v. Iowa Department of Revenue" on Justia Law

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In this will contest, the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying the unsuccessful will contestant’s motion to amend the pleadings to conform to the proof at the close of his case.The contestant’s motion at issue sought to broaden the contestant’s undue influence claim to include all of the testator’s prior wills and codicils. The Supreme Court held that the last-minute amendment would have broadened the issues and the proof. In addition, this issue fell within precedent upholding denials of motions to amend under Iowa R. Civ. P. 1.457 when the motion is based on facts the movant knew or should have known before trial. As to the contestant’s other issue asking the Supreme Court to overturn a ruling on burden of proof that was incorporated within a pretrial order denying summary judgment, this issue was not preserved for review. Accordingly, the Supreme Court vacated the decision of the court of appeals and affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "In re Estate of Margaret E. Workman" on Justia Law

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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