Statute of Limitations Barred Omitted Grandchild’s Real Estate Claim

April 28, 2021 | Kitt Tovar Jensen

On April 28, 2021, the Iowa Court of Appeals issued a ruling on a claim for quiet title of certain real estate. Because Iowa laws on real estate transfers are designed to promote stability, the statute of limitations barred the plaintiffs claim and the court affirmed the district court’s ruling.


When a testator passed away in 1963, her will devised real property to her daughter Francis for life and upon her death, to two of her other daughters, Barbara and Margaret, for life. The will further stated that after the death of Barbara and Margaret, the land would pass to their children. The plaintiff, Margaret’s daughter, was born in 1964. 

The testator’s 1965 probate inventory listed the plaintiff’s three brothers and Barbara’s four sons (appellees) as beneficiaries of the estate, but did not include the plaintiff. Nor did the final report list the plaintiff. In 1971, a change of title was entered for the land, establishing title in the names of the appellees, subject to the life estates of Francis, Barbara, and Margaret.

Margaret, the surviving life estate holder, passed away in 2018. Affidavits of death were filed terminating the life estates and stating that the land passed to the appellees as the owners. The plaintiff objected, claiming that she was a member of the class of beneficiaries but was erroneously excluded from the probate inventory and final report. The plaintiff filed a petition for partition title and quiet title. The appellees resisted alleging that the plaintiff’s claims were barred by the statute of limitations and moved for summary judgment. The district court granted the appellees’ motion, finding that Margaret, when she was the legal guardian of the plaintiff (as a child), had notice of the plaintiff’s interest in the property but did not take action.

Statute of Limitations for Real Estate Claims

The Iowa Legislature has created several laws to promote stability in real estate transfers. In general, a claim arising before January 1, 1980, to establish an interest in real estate cannot be maintained against the current property owner if the current owner and his immediate or remote grantors have held title since January 1, 1980. Iowa Code § 614.17. An exception exists if the claimant properly files an action in the office of recorder of deeds within one year from July 1, 1991. Id.  Additionally, after July 1, 1992, no action to establish an interest in real estate may be maintained if the current owner and his immediate or remote grantors have held chain of title for more than 10 years. Iowa Code § 614.17A(1)(c).

On appeal, the plaintiff claimed that the district court erroneously relied on Iowa Code sections 614.17 and 614.17A. Using Lytle v. Guilliams as guidance, the Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s judgment, finding that the testator held the property in fee simple absolute and the appellees held title in fee simple determinable, subject to the life estates. See 41 N.W.2d 668, 669 (Iowa 1950). Unlike Lytle where the life estate holder outlived the remainderman, the appellees in this case obtained title in fee simple absolute after Margaret’s life estate terminated. Id. at 672.

The court determined that the appellees, having obtained title through the testator’s will, were considered to have direct conveyance at the time of the testator’s death. Iowa Code § 614.17. Because the plaintiff’s claim arose before January 1, 1980 and she failed to forward it within one year from July 1, 1991, the court concluded that her claim was barred under sections 614.17 and 614.17A.

Noting that there was no dispute that the testator intended the plaintiff to be included as a beneficiary, the court nevertheless barred the claim. The purpose of sections 614.17 and 614.17A, the court explained, is to give effect and stability to chain of title in real estate. The plaintiff or her mother had notice of the irregularity in the estate proceedings, but failed to preserve the plaintiff’s interest in the property. The court stated that the fact that the plaintiff was a minor was of no consequence. The statute of limitations barred her claim.