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In re Sievers Family Revocable Trust Dated July 17

Court of Appeals of Iowa

May 17, 2017


         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Jones County, Kevin McKeever, Judge.

         Linda Barger appeals the district court's ruling declining to invoke jurisdiction and intervene in her parents' trust's internal matters pursuant to Iowa Code section 633A.6202 (2013). AFFIRMED.

          Larry J. Thorson of Ackley, Kopecky & Kingery, L.L.P., Cedar Rapids, for appellant.

          Considered by Potterfield, P.J., and Doyle and Tabor, JJ.

          DOYLE, Judge.

         Linda Barger is the youngest of four girls born to John and Lucille Sievers. Her sisters are JoAnne Ricklefs, Constance Sue Carson, and Francis K. Aldershof. In 2002, the Sievers set up a revocable trust, placing all of their wealth, possessions, and investments in the trust. Linda and her sisters were the beneficiaries of the trust, and all four sisters were initially named successor co-trustees. However, Linda was removed as a successor co-trustee after she and her father had a falling out in 2006.

         John and Lucille experienced some health issues and moved to a residential-care center in late 2007. JoAnne, who had been granted power of attorney by and for her parents in 2003, began assisting her parents with their finances, writing checks for expenses at her father's direction. John passed away in 2010, and Lucille in 2014.

         Before Lucille died, Linda filed a "petition concerning internal affairs of trust" in district court requesting the court take jurisdiction of the trust and conduct proceedings related to the trust's affairs pursuant to Iowa Code section 633A.6202 (2013). She asserted her sisters had "acted as powers of attorney for [Lucille], " necessitating court intervention to "[d]etermine the existence of any immunity, power, privilege, duty, or right of the successor trustee(s) to make distributions to themselves or others during the lifetime of the surviving grantor, " among other things. After Lucille's death, Linda filed her claim in trust, modifying the language slightly from her original petition, but basically asserting the same allegations and reasons for intervention.

         The matter proceeded to trial in 2016. Thereafter, the court entered its ruling determining it would not intervene in the trust's internal affairs because it found "nothing to indicate that any duty owed to the beneficiaries of the Sievers family trust was breached." The court explained:

The exhibits and witness testimony do not convince the court that there has been a breach of the trust. [Linda] certainly has her suspicions regarding the activities of her sisters, especially during the years between 2007 and 2014. However, these suspicions do not amount to a showing that there has been any misappropriation of trust funds or any hiding or dissipation of trust funds. The strongest evidence that was presented regarding the possible hiding of trust funds was a conversation that took place months ago regarding an $80, 000 account outside of Edward Jones. The only person who testified to this was [Linda]. No witness, document or exhibit corroborated the existence of such an account.
. . . .
There was a great deal of testimony presented regarding Lucille's mental state during the last years of her life. [Linda] alleges that during the last few years of [Lucille's] life, [Lucille] was not in control of the . . . trust but two of [Linda's sisters] were actually in control of the . . . trust account. The court is not convinced of this fact. However, even if this fact is true, there has been no evidence that this led to a breach of any duty owed to the beneficiaries of the trust.
[Linda] asserts that some of the money distributed from the trust and some of the transactions engaged in by the trust in 2006 and 2007 were questionable. Particularly, the purchase of a condo and payments to [her sister JoAnne]. The court has reviewed the testimony regarding these transactions and payments and has reviewed the exhibits presented and finds nothing overtly suspicious about them.

         Linda now appeals the district court's ruling. She contends the district court should have intervened in the trust's internal matters. She argues her sisters acted as trustees before Lucille's death to the sisters' gain and Linda's detriment. She claims she was denied information concerning the trust and her parents' other financial accounts by her sisters, who had control and access of the accounts. She insists her sister told her there was an account with a balance of $80, 000, and she believes her father owned several certificates of deposit (CDs) that must "still exist ...

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