Court Ensures that Distribution of Farmland Reflects Testator’s Intent

December 18, 2023 | Jennifer Harrington

In re Estate of Kooiker, No. 22-2008 (Iowa Ct. App. Nov. 21, 2023).

On November 21, 2023, the Iowa Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s decision to value farmland on the date of distribution, rather than date of death, when determining a residuary beneficiary’s inheritance.  Since the residuary clause required equal distribution among five beneficiaries, the value of the farmland given to one beneficiary from the residuary needed to be determined according to the distribution date.


Joyce Kooiker had farmland and six surviving children when she died in December 2019. Her will established a trust for the supplemental care, maintenance, support, and education of one of her children. Her farmland was part of the residuary estate, which was to pass to her remaining five children. The residuary clause stated there would be an appraisal and her son Lyle was to receive the farmland immediately south of the land he previously received from his father’s estate in an amount equal in value to his one-fifth share of all of the farmland.” An amended inventory filed in October 2020 listed the appraised value of Lyle’s share of the farmland at $14,433 per acre at the time of Joyce’s death. The remaining farmland was to be partitioned by the four other children in a “fair, equitable and friendly manner.” If they could not agree upon a partition, then the land was to be sold at public auction. The four children could not agree on how to divide the land, and it was sold at public auction at a price of $23,057/acre.

In March 2022, the executor moved the court to appoint a special master to resolve disputes that hindered final settlement of the estate. The special master recommended valuing Lyle’s share at the $14,433 date of death value. Two beneficiaries  objected, arguing that would create an unequal distribution. The court sided with the objecting beneficiaries and ordered that Lyle’s share of the farmland be appraised and the value be determined “as close to distribution as feasible.” Lyle appealed, arguing the special master’s report should have been followed.


The court of appeals found that the district court did not err by not fully adopting the special master’s report. Iowa Rule of Civil Procedure 1.942 allows the court to adopt, reject, or modify the report. However, the rule also stated that the court must accept the master’s fact findings unless clearly erroneous.

The court found that the special master erred when it stated the only condition upon Lyle’s farmland was the appraisal. The residuary clause required an equal distribution among Lyle and the four other children, and this was another condition upon Lyle’s inheritance. The court explained that the special master’s method would not honor Joyce’s intent but would result in an unequal distribution. The court stated:

“The higher prices paid at auction increase the total value of the residual estate and,correspondingly, Lyle’s share. Using the lower appraisal figure in converting his share of the residue to farmland will result in Lyle receiving a greater number of acres than he would receive using a recent appraisal. In other words, the method recommended by the special master doubly benefits Lyle by increasing both his overall share of the residue and the amount of farmland he can obtain from that share. To reach a fair and equitable result, the court should value the assets using similar appraisals, preferably near the date of distribution.”