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In re Estate of Hadsall

Court of Appeals of Iowa

March 6, 2019

IN THE MATTER OF THE ESTATE OF JEAN PEAK HADSALL, Deceased. JOHN D. HADSALL, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Warren County, Jeffrey D. Farrell, Judge.

         John Hadsall appeals the probate court's judgment ordering him to return $383, 595.63 to his mother's estate.

          Anthony Zane Blessum and Susan R. Stockdale, Winterset, for appellant.

          Nicholas A. Carda and Ryan Ellis of Ellis Law Offices, P.C., Indianola, for appellee.

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

          DOYLE, Presiding Judge.

         Attorney John Hadsall, son of decedent Jean Hadsall, appeals the probate court's judgment ordering him to return $383, 595.63 to his mother's estate. The court determined John had a confidential relationship with Jean and transferred essentially all of her assets into accounts owned by him, contrary to Jean's wishes. Because John failed to establish he acted in good faith while making the transfers or that Jean acted freely, intelligently, and voluntarily in gifting him money from her accounts, the court ordered John to return money to the estate. Upon our review, we affirm.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         In 1990, as part of their estate plans, Jean and Robert Hadsall established the revocable "Robert C. Hadsall and/or Jean A. Hadsall Trust." Jean and Robert transferred their farmland into the trust. Upon the death of the surviving spouse, the trust provided that any trust property "shall be equally divided" between their four children, per stirpes. In accordance with the trust, Jean also executed a last will and testament bequeathing any property not held by the trust to the trust upon her death.[1] Both instruments identified Jean and Robert's four children, including their sons John and Bruce.

         Robert Hadsall passed away in December 2007. In January 2008, John, an attorney licensed to practice law in Florida, drafted for Jean a document titled "Voluntary Appointment of Durable Power of Attorney/Healthcare Surrogate." Jean designated John as her power of attorney, and she executed the document before a notary. John thereafter regularly assisted Jean with her financial affairs.

         Jean subsequently sold the farm in two parcels; the first in January 2008 and the second in February 2008. The farm machinery was sold in June 2008. The funds she received from those sales were not deposited in accounts owned by the trust. Neither were other monies Jean received, such as life insurance proceeds relating to Robert's death. Rather, the funds were deposited into mostly new accounts in Jean's name, wherein John was generally named as a joint owner.

         At some point, John's siblings questioned what was happening with Jean's assets. In 2010 and 2013, John wrote letters to his siblings on Jean's behalf to advise them of Jean's "wishes and to stop wrongful and false accusations." John's 2010 letter, addressed to his three siblings, stated:

With this year's gift, Mom has given us all $40, 000 in the past 4 years for a total of $160, 000 out of her's and Dad's estate, the remainder in certificates of deposit in hers and our names to be given upon her death to her surviving children with a further distribution after payment of her bills and taxes from the sale of the farm; please join me in hoping her good health remains for many, many years.

         John's 2013 correspondence-"An Open Letter to [Each of My Siblings] from ...


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