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In Iowa, estate administration is a relatively streamlined, inexpensive process. For most estates, the attorney fee is generally a routine two percent of the gross estate. In many instances, that may be less than the cost associated with the funeral. But, the attorney fee can be more if the family wants to fight. This case illustrates that point.
When a divorce occurs and property is split between the ex-spouses, interesting issues can arise. The property division can be important for numerous reasons, not the least of which involves tax issues associated with particular assets in the hands of each former spouse. Sometimes a question can arise as to spousal rights to property, as it did in this case.
When an estate is opened in Iowa, the appointed executors must take an oath to the court to accept the duty of a fiduciary- meaning that an executor must “manage an estate with the level of care an ordinary prudent person would exercise under like circumstances in their own affairs.” Under Iowa Code § 633.160, a fiduciary is liable for “negligent or willful acts or nonfeasance in the fiduciary’s administration of the estate by which loss to the estate arises.”
Estate planning, land contracts, transfer of management and wealth, and buy-sell agreements are all components of a good succession plan. In order to successfully transfer the family farm to the next generation, the parties involved should have a specific plan in place. This case demonstrates the need for a viable succession plan and the damage that lack of communication can do to family relationships.
In Iowa, an executor of an estate must generally provide an accounting of all income and disbursements made during the probate process. However, if all parties agree, that requirement can be waived (Iowa Code §633.477(9)).
The Iowa Code specifies the maximum amount of “ordinary” fees that can be paid to an attorney for the administration of an estate (Iowa Code §§ 633.197 and 633.198). The law requires that the attorney be allowed “such reasonable fees as may be determined by the court, for services rendered.” In addition, the fees must not exceed the rate set out in the Iowa Code which corresponds to the “gross assets of the estate listed in the probate inventory.”
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 this case, the trial court dismissed an executor’s claims that the decedent’s daughter had committed constructive fraud by abusing a confidential relationship and exerting undue influence over her father. The daughter helped her parents as they aged by managing their finances and helping them with errands. In July 2001, the mother transferred money to her daughter to pay her parent’s expenses. The mother died in September 2001, and the father executed a new power of attorney, naming his daughter as agent.
Here, a father died with an insurance policy benefitting his second wife. The father’s two sons brought suit against his estate claiming asking that the change of beneficiary designation on his life insurance policy to their step-mother be set aside because of undue influence. The father had been married to the sons’ mother for 49 years until her death in 2002. After she died, the father experienced health problems, including blindness and heart problems. He then married a former high school classmate who took over his daily care and was his companion.
Long-term health care planning often involves the use of trusts to provide a stream of income for a family member in need of long-term care and preserve trust assets for other family members upon the death of the person in need of care. This case involved a determination as to whether a particular trust was a "discretionary trust with standards" and, if so, what effect Iowa Code section 633A.4702 (2007) had on the Iowa Department of Human Services' (DHS's) right to recover Medicaid benefits from the corpus of that trust after the beneficiary’s death.
Here, the lawsuits (10 in all) began with a struggle among family members concerning the administration of their mother’s estate and their father’s estate plan. In 2001, the trial court ordered the children to cease interfering with the disposition of their parents’ property. Any party that violated the court’s order would forfeit their right to receive any property under their father’s will.
When drafting estate planning documents for clients, an attorney is only liable for malpractice to the client, not potential beneficiaries or heirs.
It is a common estate planning tool for a revocable trust to be accompanied with a pour-over will to ensure that all of the decedent’s property ends up in the trust at death. Here, a mother executed a revocable living trust and transferred some of her assets to the trust during her life. She died in 2006, owning an 80-acre parcel of farmland and survived by three grown daughters - two living out of state. The Iowa daughter was named trustee. The 80 acres was never transferred to the trust, but Mom’s will devised the residuary of her estate to the trust.
In cases involving interpretation of a provision in a will, the testator’s intent controls. In this case, the executors of a will sought the court’s interpretation of a will provision. The provision specifically bequeathed to the decedent’s husband, should he survive her, household items, such as furniture and cars. The provision provided as follows:
Guardianships and conservatorships are court-ordered legal devices used to protect a person’s personal and financial well-being in the event that they are unable to do so. Typically, these court-supervised arrangements end upon the death of the person they are designed to protect or when the court deems they are no longer necessary.
In this case, the parties' father died and his estate property passed to the parties' mother. She subsequently died in 2006 with a will providing that her property would be divided equally among her four surviving children and the heirs of a predeceased child.
This case involves issues of a mother’s competence to make a will and convey property by deed. Here, one of the sons (the executor of his mother’s will) appealed the trial court’s ruling that set aside his mother’s 2004 will in which she conveyed the homestead residence to him.
In Iowa, the “Slayer Statute” was enacted in 1987 to prevent murderers from inheriting property from an estate they are otherwise entitled to inherit from. In pertinent part, Iowa Code §633.535 provides that:
Updated July 29, 2010
The decedent died in 1998. At the time of his death he had two sons that were named as beneficiaries of his life insurance policy. The decedent’s estate was probated but, of course, the life insurance policy was not included in the probate estate – it’s “bypass” or “will substitute” property via the beneficiary designations. After payment of administrative expenses, the estate lacked the funds to pay the federal and Iowa estate taxes. When it was closed, the estate was insolvent, and the two surviving sons did not inherit any probate assets.
The decedent died in 1999 leaving a will which gave his wife a life use of all real estate that he owned. The remainder interest in most of the property went to several other family members equally. A separate provision of the will stated that the plaintiffs would have the first right to purchase 80 acres of farmland “at the appraised value in the Estate.” The right of purchase was to last for four months from the date of the decedent’s death. The 80-acre parcel was valued at $140,600 at the time of decedent’s death.
Here, three siblings appeal a trial court’s decision to remove them as co-trustees of a trust created by their parents. In this case, the parents owned 2000 acres of Iowa farmland which they operated through a farm corporation. They had three children. The son was the on-farm heir and worked on the farm all of his life. The son was paid a monthly salary by the corporation and was provided with employee benefits including health insurance. The two daughters were not involved in the farming operation. All three siblings own minority shares in the farming corporation.
The Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation does not provide legal advice. Any information provided on this website is not intended to be a substitute for legal services from a competent professional. The Center's work is supported by fee-based seminars and generous private gifts. Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in the material contained on this website do not necessarily reflect the views of Iowa State University.