Court Deems Failure to Respond to Discovery Requests as Admitted Answers
On May 12, 2021, the Iowa Court of Appeals affirmed a summary judgment in favor of the executor in a will contest filed by the decedent’s son. After the son failed to respond to numerous requests for admission during discovery, the district court deemed the unanswered questions admitted and entered judgment for the executor. In affirming the judgment, the Court of Appeals found that there was no evidence of “insane delusions” or undue influence and that the executor would be prejudiced if the court allowed the son to withdraw his answers.
The decedent executed his final will in 2016, two years before he passed away. Despite having an estate worth $11 million, the decedent left five dollars to the son, his only child, as well as to each grandchild. The decedent’s will stated that he made substantial gifts to his son and his grandchildren during his life. The will devised specific amounts of money to members at the decedent’s church and to three Iowa State University (ISU) students. The decedent’s remaining assets were placed in a charitable trust to fund scholarships for ISU students studying agriculture.
The son filed a petition to set aside the will, alleging that his father was of unsound mind and suffered from delusions. In an amended petition, the son sought to admit a 2004 will to probate, under which he would have received an inheritance, and alleged his father was unduly influence when creating the 2016 will. However, after the son failed to respond to 18 requests for admissions, the executor moved for summary judgment based upon those admissions. Admitting that the unanswered requests were deemed admitted under Iowa Rule of Civil Procedure 1.510(2), the son moved to withdraw his admissions. The son provided answers for 14 of the requests, but refused to answer the questions regarding his father’s mental capacity to create wills in 2016, 2004, 2001, and 2000. Relying on the executor’s statement of undisputed facts, the court denied the motion to withdraw and entered judgment for the executor. The son appealed.
Motion to Withdraw Admissions
The son agreed that he missed the 30-day deadline to respond to the executor’s request for admissions. Nevertheless, the son argued that the district court could exercise discretion and allow him to withdraw his admissions under Rule 1.511. A court may permit withdrawal if the party requesting the admissions cannot prove to the court that he will be prejudiced by the withdrawal. See Iowa R. Civ. P. 1.511.
Disagreeing with the son’s argument that proximity to trial is the main factor in creating prejudice, the court determined that the executor would be prejudiced if the court allowed the withdrawal because he would suddenly be forced to defend issues deemed admitted. Here, the son and his attorney failed to respond to two motions to compel and did not attempt to respond until 29 days after the executor filed a motion for summary judgment. Additionally, the court found no reason to accept the son’s suggestion that his attorney’s failure to respond should be a mitigating factor. Noting that the son still had not answered the four questions regarding his father’s mental capacity, the court affirmed the denial of the motion to withdraw.
Lack of Evidence for Claims of Insane Delusion and Undue Influence
Arguing that mental capacity to execute a will was not the correct standard for his claims of insane delusion and undue influence, the son argued that a genuine issue of material fact existed regarding his allegations. Declining to resolve whether the son had standing to appeal, the court affirmed that no genuine issue of material fact existed.
Insane delusions render a will invalid when it is “the direct results of such delusions.” In re Estate of Koll, 206 N.W. 40, 43 (Iowa 1925). The son argued that the request for admissions questioning whether the decedent has “sufficient mental capacity” did not address whether the decedent was of “sound mind.” See Iowa Code § 633.264 (stating that “…any person of full age and sound mind may dispose by will of all the person’s property…). Finding that an insane delusion is a type of mental incapacity rather than a distinct condition, the court concluded that the son’s admissions defeated the insane delusion claim as a matter of law. Additionally, the son did not present any evidence that his father actually suffered from insane delusions. In the same way, the son did not provide any evidence of who allegedly exerted undue influence over his father. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court’s judgment.
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