Court Rules on Reopening of Decedent’s Estate

October 9, 2010 | Erin Herbold


Upon the testator’s death in 2001, his will was admitted to probate. A subsequent dispute arose amongst the testator’s siblings over the sale of the estate’s assets. The executors filed a final report which the trial court approved in 2002.  However, the court noted that there were some issues remaining to be dealt with before the estate would be closed, including filing a federal estate tax closing letter and obtaining an inheritance tax clearance from the Iowa Department of Revenue (IDOR). 

In 2004, one of the executors asked the trial court to reopen the estate, alleging malpractice by the estate’s attorney and misconduct by his co-executor. The attorney filed a petition, followed up by an order from the court, that the estate had never been closed, because the federal estate tax letter was never filed with the court. A successor executor and attorney were appointed. 

In 2006, the successor attorney and executor requested payment of their fees. The court allowed attorney’s fees of approximately $30,000, far less than what was requested, and did not allow additional executor’s fees. The executor appealed the decision and asked the court to reconsider both sets of fees. In 2007, the district court moved to close the estate- at this time the estate had been open for six years. The executor objected, stating that the final fiduciary income tax forms had not been filed and the appeal regarding fees was still pending. However, the district court ordered the estate closed. 

The parties appealed for the first time to the Iowa Court of Appeals. The appellate court ordered the full amount of attorney’s fees and executor fees be issued. Again, in 2008, the executor filed a petition to reopen the estate, because the attorney’s fees and executor’s fees had never been paid. The district court denied the executor’s petition. On its second appeal to the Iowa Court of Appeals, the appellate court addressed the closure of an estate as is laid out in Iowa Code §450.58. Because the pertinent documents were never filed, namely the Iowa inheritance tax clearance, the closing of the estate was void. Since the estate closing order was void, the estate cannot be reopened and the executor’s motion was a moot point.In re Matter of the Estate of Nelson, No. 9-705/09-0031 (Iowa Ct. App., Oct. 7, 2009).