BETTY LU OXENREIDER, Individually and as Executor for The Estate of DON JOHNSTON, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
ANDREW J. MCALEXANDER, BECKEY M. WHITE N/K/A BECKY M. MCALEXANDER, JERRY MCALEXANDER, ROSALEE MCALEXANDER, and DEBRA VAN HORN, Defendants-Appellees.
Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Ringgold County, Sherman W. Phipps, Judge.
Betty Lu Oxenreider, individually and as Executor for the Estate of Don Johnston, appeals from the district court's dismissal of their action after a bench trial.
A. Zane Blessum, West Des Moines, for appellants.
Robert W. Reynoldson of Reynoldson & Van Werden, L.L.P., Osceola, for appellees.
Heard by Potterfield, P.J., and Mullins and Bower, JJ.
Betty Lu Oxenreider, individually and as Executor for the Estate of Don Johnston (the Estate), appeals from the district court's dismissal after a bench trial of the action against Andrew McAlexander, Beckey White (n/k/a Beckey Alexander), Jerry McAlexander, Rosalee McAlexander, and Debra Van Horn (collectively, the McAlexanders). She argues the district court erred in ruling the conveyances of real property were gifts. She concedes the court correctly found there were no agreements to pay for the property. We affirm, finding the district court properly found the conveyances were gifts and dismissed the action.
I. Facts and proceedings.
Don and Naomi Johnston owned three tracts of farm land: a 130-acre tract where their home was situated (the Home Tract), an eighty-acre tract southwest of the Home Tract (the Southwest Tract), and a one-third interest in a 320-acre tract of land south of the Home Tract (the South Tract). Their interest in the South Tract was shared with Don's two siblings. Naomi and Don deeded about three acres of the Southwest Tract to Andrew McAlexander. They also provided for Andrew to build a home on that property. The deed for these acres recited the consideration for the transfer was one dollar and other valuable consideration. The Estate and Oxenreider do not dispute that conveyance to Andrew.
Don and Naomi had a close relationship with the McAlexanders. Andrew's grandfather was Naomi's brother. Don and Naomi were aunt and uncle to Jerry McAlexander, Larry McAlexander, and Deborah Van Horn.
Naomi died in 2008; after her death Don made further conveyances of their property to others. In June 2008 Don signed three deeds to transfer the remainder of the parcels of land. All of the deeds were filed with the county recorder the next day. One deed conveyed the entire remaining Southwest Tract to Jerry McAlexander,  Larry McAlexander, and Debra Van Horn in equal shares. The conveyance reserved a life estate for Don. This deed stated the conveyance was made "for the consideration of one hundred sixty thousand" dollars. The next conveyance was made to Andrew McAlexander and Beckey White (the two later married and are now Andrew and Beckey McAlexander) as joint tenants of the entire Home Tract for the consideration of two hundred and sixty thousand dollars along with other valuable consideration. This conveyance also reserved in Don a life estate. The reservation of the life estate for both tracts was to provide Don with farm income for the rest of his life. Finally, the last conveyance was of his one-third interest in the South Tract to Betty Lu Oxenreider and Lyle Johnston—Don's siblings. This transfer was made for the consideration of one dollar and other valuable consideration. This last conveyance is not at issue on appeal. No money was paid to Don for any of the transfers of land.
Jerry became aware of the transfer shortly after it was recorded. Oxenreider became aware of the transfers after taking Don to pay his real estate taxes later that year. Andrew knew immediately—he was present when Don signed the deeds. At trial, Andrew reported Don told him not to worry about the consideration line on the deed, that it was a formality suggested by Don's attorney.
In August of 2009, Don decided he had "made a mistake" in making the three June 2008 conveyances. He wrote the recipients through his attorney requesting they deed the land back to him. After the recipients refused to deed the land back to him, Don filed suit against them in August of 2010. Don was deposed prior to trial. He testified that he wanted the land back after the McAlexander family did not want to take care of him anymore. He stated that by transferring them the land, he thought they would care for him and the land, though none of them had actually promised to do so. He also stated in his deposition that no one in the McAlexander family promised to take care of him for the rest of his life, and none of them told him they would pay him for the transfer of the deeds.
Don died in April of 2011. The case was continued by the Estate and Oxenreider. Trial was ...