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In re Estate of Terpstra

Court of Appeals of Iowa

May 16, 2018

IN THE MATTER OF THE ESTATE OF JOHN E. TERPSTRA, Deceased,
v.
VICKIE TERPSTRA, Executor of the Estate of John E. Terpstra-Appellee. RONALD G. TERPSTRA, Beneficiary-Appellant,

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Mahaska County, Myron L. Gookin, Judge.

         Ronald Terpstra appeals the dismissal of his petition for declaratory judgment.

          Randall C. Stravers of Stravers Law Firm, Oskaloosa, for appellant.

          Michael P. Holzworth, Des Moines, and Daniel M. Manning, Jr. of Lillis O'Malley Olson Manning Pose Templeman LLP, Des Moines, for appellee.

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

          TABOR, JUDGE.

         This appeal raises the question whether pleading the wrong statute of limitations in a motion to dismiss nevertheless preserves the affirmative defense of a different statute of limitations. Because a party relying upon a statute of limitations as a defense must specifically plead that intent and then show the facts constituting the bar, we conclude the failure to identify the correct statute operates as a waiver of that defense. Accordingly, we reverse the dismissal of the declaratory-judgment action brought by Ronald Terpstra and remand for further proceedings.

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         In 1989, John Terpstra bought a $25, 000 life insurance policy, naming his wife, Mary, as the beneficiary.[1] More than two decades later, at age 83, John filed a voluntary petition for appointment of a guardian and conservator, proposing his son Ronald for the position. John signed the petition on September 14, 2013. Nine days later, on September 23, John signed a change of beneficiary form, directing one hundred percent of the proceeds of his life insurance policy go to his daughter, Vickie.

         John died in December 2013.[2] The district court admitted John's will into probate and opened the estate in January 2014. Vickie served as executor of her father's estate. More than two years later, on November 8, 2016, Ronald filed a petition for declaratory judgment asking the district court to find that when John changed beneficiaries on the life insurance policy he was "not acting voluntarily and on his own behalf" but rather "was under the undue influence of Vickie."

         In January 2017, Vickie-as executor of the estate-filed a motion to dismiss Ronald's petition, alleging the filing was outside of the four-month period for filing claims under Iowa Code sections 633.410 and 633.415 (2014). The motion contended Ronald, as a residuary beneficiary of the estate, received proper notice under the probate code. The motion also asserted Ronald's petition failed "to adequately plead the elements necessary to establish a claim of undue influence."

         In May 2017, after holding a hearing on the matter, the district court decided Ronald failed "to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." The court rejected Vickie's argument that Ronald's petition was untimely under Iowa Code sections 633.410 or 633.309. But the court sua sponte decided his petition was barred by Iowa Code section 614.1(2). The court declined to reach the merits of Ronald's undue-influence claim. Ronald now appeals, arguing the district court erred by considering the statute-of-limitations defense under section 614.1(2).

         II. Standard of Review

         The parties agree we review the ruling on a motion to dismiss for legal error. See Rieff v. Evans, 6 ...


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