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Estate of Arnold v. Arnold

Court of Appeals of Iowa

July 24, 2019

ESTATE OF WILBUR M. ARNOLD, WILLIAM D. ARNOLD, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
BRUCE C. ARNOLD, Individually and as Executor, KAREN L. HEUER, as Executor, STEVEN C. ARNOLD, as Executor, BCA FARMLAND CORPORATION, ARLYS L. ARNOLD, DON R. ARNOLD, LANCE J. ARNOLD, MARY A. ARNOLD, and WARREN J. ARNOLD, Defendants-Appellees.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Hancock County, Colleen D. Weiland, Judge.

         A nephew of the decedents appeals the district court's grant of summary judgment for various relatives on his claims of undue influence and tortious interference with a bequest.

          David J. Dutton and Nathan J. Schroeder of Dutton, Braun, Staack & Hellman, P.L.C., Waterloo, for appellant.

          Michael A. Smith and Lawrence B. Cutler of Craig, Smith & Cutler, LLP, Eldora, for appellees BCA Farmland Corp, Bruce C. Arnold, Mary A. Arnold, and Warren J. Arnold. Joel J. Yunek of Yunek Law Firm, P.L.C., Mason City, for appellees Karen L. Heuer and Steven Arnold.

          Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., Tabor, J., and Vogel, S.J. [*]

          TABOR, JUDGE.

         William Arnold did not receive the inheritance of farmland he anticipated from either his aunt Evelyn or his uncle Wilbur.[1] After their deaths, he contested Wilbur's will and claimed family members tortiously interfered with his expected bequest from Evelyn. The district court found no genuine issue of material fact and granted the defendants' motion for judgment as a matter of law. On appeal, William insists he generated jury questions on both claims. Finding summary judgment was proper, we affirm.

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         Siblings Wilbur, Evelyn, Roy, and Bruce inherited Hancock County farmland from their father, Elmer Arnold. Neither Wilbur nor Evelyn ever married or had children.[2] By contrast, their brothers Roy and Bruce each had four children. Roy's children included William-who is the plaintiff here-as well as Don, Arlys, and Lance, defendants in William's petition. William also sued Bruce and his four children: Karen Heuer, Warren, Mary, and Steven. To complete the roster, William listed as a defendant Bruce's family farm corporation, BCA Farmland.

         Of Elmer's children, only Wilbur and Roy went into farming. In turn, Roy's children, William and Lance, farmed with their uncle Wilbur for twenty years, until Wilbur retired in 1995. William recalled "butting heads" with Wilbur in the late 1980s over what chemicals to apply in the farming operation but claims it did not impact their relationship. William also rented farmland from his aunt Evelyn and his uncle Bruce. William alleges Bruce controlled the rental terms for both his land and Evelyn's.

         In his summary judgment evidence, William highlights a letter Bruce drafted on BCA Farmland Corporation letterhead in 1992, telling his four children:

Evelyn and Wilbur are originating and changing their wills. Their present thinking is to leave much of their farmland to all four of you in undivided one-fourth interests. Their intent and, as you know, my goal is that the Arnold farmland remain within the family through your generation, and hopefully through the next generation.

         The letter explained BCA Farmland "provides the legal framework that can permit this to happen." In closing, Bruce expressed his hope the inheritance transfers would not take place until well into the future and noted "their plans are certainly generous and it is in the interest of us all to carry them out."

         That letter was prescient in its desire that Evelyn and Wilbur would live long lives and their estates would be a future concern. Evelyn died in 2012, at age 90. She had signed her latest will in 2008. The estate closed the probate in 2013. William did not contest her will. In fact, as part of those probate proceedings, he accepted a bequest of $103, 000 from her estate. But William did offer an unsigned copy of Evelyn's ...


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