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Estate of Harris v. Harris

Court of Appeals of Iowa

March 8, 2017

ESTATE OF DOROTHY HARRIS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
RANDALL EVERETT HARRIS, HIS UNKNOWN SPOUSES, HEIRS, DEVISEES, GRANTEES, ASSIGNEES, SUCCESSORS IN INTEREST AND THEIR UNKNOWN SPOUSES AND THE PARTIES IN POSSESSION AND UNKNOWN CLAIMANTS OF THE FOLLOWING DESCRIBED REAL ESTATE SITUATED IN FLOYD COUNTY, IOWA, Defendants-Appellants.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Floyd County, Christopher C. Foy, Judge.

         Randall Harris appeals from the district court's order setting aside a quit claim deed. AFFIRMED.

          Roger L. Sutton of Sutton Law Office, Charles City, for appellants.

          Rodney E. Mulcahy of Eggert, Erb, Mulcahy & Kuehner, P.L.L.C., Charles City, for appellee.

          Heard by Mullins, P.J., and Bower and McDonald, JJ.

          MULLINS, Presiding Judge.

         Randall Harris appeals from the district court's order setting aside a quit claim deed executed by his mother, Dorothy Harris, which conveyed real estate to him. He asserts the district court erred in finding the Estate proved Dorothy lacked sufficient mental capacity to execute the quit claim deed by clear, convincing, and satisfactory evidence. Upon our de novo review, we affirm the district court's order setting aside the quit claim deed and declaring it void.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         On March 31, 2011, Dorothy signed a quit claim deed conveying her home and surrounding acreage (totaling thirteen acres) to her youngest son, Randall. The deed was recorded on April 8, 2011. Dorothy was divorced and never remarried. Dorothy had three sons: Richard, Robert, and Randall. She raised her children in Texas and worked as a machinist prior to moving to Iowa to care for her aging parents and continue working as a machinist here.

         For several years, Randall and his daughter lived with Dorothy on her acreage near Floyd, Iowa. In 2008, Dorothy signed paperwork appointing

         Randall as her durable power of attorney for medical care and general matters. Dorothy's son, Robert, resided in Texas with his wife and youngest child. Robert and his wife visited Dorothy several times a year and stayed at her home during their visits. Robert also spoke on the phone with his mother frequently. Robert's son, Eric, had lived with Dorothy in Iowa during his high school years. At all times relevant to this appeal, Eric lived in Jewell, Iowa, with his family but owned real estate near Dorothy's home and visited her often. Dorothy lived at home until January 2012 when she was moved to a long-term care facility. Randall continued to reside at Dorothy's home after Dorothy left and was still living there at the time of trial.

         Following Dorothy's death in August 2012 at the age of eighty-two, her grandson, Eric, was appointed administrator of her estate. On July 15, 2013, the Estate of Dorothy Harris filed a petition for quiet title, alleging Dorothy was not mentally competent to sign the March 2011 quit claim deed. Subsequently, Dorothy's last will and testament was found. Her will nominated and appointed Randall to serve as executor. Randall filed an application to remove Eric as the administrator in this matter. Ultimately, the court appointed a corporate administrator of the Estate. Thereafter, the corporate administrator proceeded with the petition for quiet title. On January 6, 2015, the court dismissed the Estate's case pursuant to Iowa Rule of Civil Procedure 1.944 for failure to prosecute. The Estate filed an application to reinstate, which the court granted.

         The matter came on for trial on March 18, 2015. At trial, the Estate presented evidence of Dorothy's declining mental functioning over the last three to four years of her life. In November 2008, Randall took Dorothy to see a physician, Dr. Mark Haganman, due to concerns about memory loss. Dr. Haganman diagnosed Dorothy with dementia, describing it as a "[c]ognitive impairment moderately severe likely Alzheimer's type, " and prescribed Dorothy medication to prevent further memory loss. Dorothy never took the medication. Dorothy saw Dr. Haganman again in July and November 2010. In November, Dr. Haganman observed a "significant, profound decline" in Dorothy's mental functioning. The record noted Randall was "alarmed about her progression" regarding her memory impairment. The record further noted Dorothy "is very poorly kept, filthy clothes, her hands and feet and chest and face are filthy, and her hair is poorly kept as well. She is oriented to person and confused to place and time."

         In February 2011, Dorothy received treatment from Dr. Haganman for an open, nonhealing wound on her leg. Because Dorothy was unable to care for the wound on her leg properly at home, Dr. Haganman admitted Dorothy to the hospital for a period of one week. Dr. Haganman opined Dorothy suffered from Alzheimer's disease and lacked the mental capacity to care for herself or manage her financial affairs. Upon discharge, Dr. Haganman recommended Dorothy enter skilled nursing for changing the bandages on her leg wound, but Randall objected and insisted upon taking her home. Randall returned with Dorothy the following day and stated he could not take care of her. The next day, a home health nursing agency faxed a ...


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