Court of Appeals Finds That “Or” Means “And” in Iowa Inheritance Statute, But Affirms Biological Son as an Heir.

While married, the decedent (who was an Arizona resident) engaged in planned sexual relations with a woman who was not his wife for the express purpose of allowing the woman to conceive a child. The woman gave birth to the child in 1994. The decedent maintained infrequent phone contact with the mother of the child throughout the remainder of his life. He died in Arizona in 2011, owning a one-half interest in an Iowa farm. The decedent’s wife (who had also only maintained infrequent phone contact with the decedent from 1996 until his death) filed a petition in the ancillary Iowa action seeking a declaration that the child born in 1994 was not an heir of the decedent. The child filed a motion for summary judgment based upon an Arizona paternity order declaring that the decedent was his father. The district court denied summary judgment to the son, finding that he had to prove both paternity and recognition by his father. After a trial, the district court denied the spouse’s petition and ultimately found the son to be an heir. On appeal, the court affirmed. Iowa Code §633.222 states that a child can inherit from his biological father if (1) the evidence proving paternity is available during the father’s lifetime OR (2) the child has been recognized by the father as his child. Nonetheless, the court ruled that Iowa case law, including a 1989 Iowa Supreme Court case, In re Estate of Evjen, 448 N.W.2d 23 (Iowa 1989), “deviates from the plain language of the statute in interpreting the ‘or’ to mean ‘and’” and that it was “bound by this long-standing supreme court precedent.” As such, the court found that both paternity and recognition had to be established for the son to be an heir. Even so, the court found that the spouse had failed to carry her burden to show that the decedent had not recognized the child to be his son. Mohr v. Mohr, No. 13-1422 (Iowa Ct. App. Oct. 15, 2014).

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