IN THE MATTER OF THE ESTATE OF FREEMAN ADAMS, Deceased. THE ESTATE OF DOROTHY FISHER, by and through her executor, JOHN H. FISHER, Appellant.
from the Iowa District Court for Fayette County, Margaret L.
estate of Dorothy Ruth Fisher appeals the ruling of the
probate court ultimately finding her brother's will was
J. Schroeder and David J. Dutton of Dutton, Braun, Staack
& Hellman, P.L.C., Waterloo, for appellant.
Patrick B. Dillon of Dillon Law, P.C., Sumner, for appellees
Scott Adams and Nathan Adams.
W. Hofmeyer III of Hofmeyer & Hanson, P.C., Fayette, for
appellee Edward Brannon.
by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Doyle and Bower, JJ.
estate of Dorothy Ruth Fisher appeals the probate
court's (1) dismissal of her petition in probate seeking
to open an intestate estate for her brother Freeman Adams,
(2) sustaining the petition of a beneficiary of Freeman's
2011 will to probate Freeman's will, and (3) sustaining
the motion for a directed verdict on a claim of undue
influence. Upon our review, we affirm the court's ruling
in all respects.
Background Facts and Proceedings.
Adams passed away in December 2016. Dorothy Ruth Fisher (nee
Adams)-Freeman's sister and former conservator-petitioned
in probate seeking to open an intestate estate for
Freeman. Dorothy Ruth acknowledged in her petition
that she had found in Freeman's possessions a 2011
document declaring to be Freeman's "Last Will and
Testament." Dorothy Ruth asserted the document was
"invalid due to lack of testamentary capacity, " or
"the product of undue influence or both . . . and should
not be admitted to probate." Dorothy Ruth requested she
be appointed administrator of the estate.
beneficiaries of Freeman's will were notified Dorothy
Ruth had filed the probate petition. Two beneficiaries, Scott
Adams and his son Nathan Adams, objected to Dorothy
Ruth's petition, arguing Freeman's will was valid.
They asked the court to deny Dorothy Ruth's petition for
intestate administration of the estate and requested the will
be admitted to probate and Scott be appointed executor. Scott
also petitioned for probate of will and appointment of
executor, again requesting he be appointed executor of the
estate. At some point, beneficiary Edward Brannon joined the
action as an interested party. Dorothy Ruth objected to Scott
and Nathan's request.
dueling petitions over the administration of the estate came
on for a bench trial in May 2018. After the cases in chief,
Brannon moved for a directed verdict as to any claim of undue
influence on his part.
probate court made these findings of fact essentially not in
A. Freeman's Life and History.
1. Freeman Adams was born June 16, 1926, to John and Dorothy
Adams. Freeman had two siblings, Howard and Dorothy Ruth . .
Freeman grew up on the family farm in Waucoma, Iowa. Freeman
was drafted into the army and served in Korea. He was
discharged in 1952. Upon discharge, Freeman returned to live
with his parents.
2. Following his return from the army, Freeman began showing
signs of mental illness. He was admitted to the Mental Health
Institute [(MHI)] in Independence, Iowa on or about October
15, 1956. He stayed at MHI for approximately one year.
On April 28, 1958, Freeman was readmitted to MHI. He was
later transferred to the Veterans Administration [(VA)]
Hospital in Knoxville, Iowa. There, Freeman was diagnosed
with paranoid schizophrenia. Records indicate Freeman had
delusions of persecution; that food/air were being poisoned;
that he had syphilis; that he would give people syphilis if
he shook their hand. Freeman was treated with Mellaril, an
antipsychotic, and Stelazine, an antianxiety and
At various times, Freeman was hospitalized at the VA Hospital
in Knoxville. When released from the hospital, he resided
with his parents in Waucoma. Following the passing of
Freeman's father, Freeman continued to live with his
mother at the family homestead. He and his mother later moved
to a house in Waucoma.
3. In 1960, Freeman's mother . . . was appointed his
guardian. [She] served as Freeman's guardian from
approximately 1960 to 1984. She managed all of Freeman's
financial affairs, including applying for disability and VA
benefits, paying Freeman's bills and providing for his
daily needs, including providing a place to live. Freeman did
receive a monthly allowance for groceries and other expenses.
However, all other financial affairs were managed by the
guardian. Although released from the Knoxville VA Hospital in
1966, Freeman continued to suffer from mental disability. He
was diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia with severe
social and industrial impairment. Freeman continued to take
antipsychotic medications for the rest of his life.
4.The evidence indicates Freeman had certain idiosyncrasies,
including refusing to flush the toilet; picking up discarded
cigarettes to smoke; refusing to cut his fingernails,
regularly bathe or have a haircut more than twice a year;
refusing to answer the telephone at times; refusing to use
certain appliances; saving plastic twisters; irregular sleep
habits; sleeping on a cot, rather than a bed; and keeping the
house dimly lit.
5. Freeman was never employed. His income came from farm
rent, VA pension, disability insurance, annuities and other
investments set up by his mother, along with Freeman's
sister Dorothy Ruth . . . .
6. Freeman's sister . . . took over as conservator in
1984, due to [their mother's] failing health. [Their
mother] died in 1991. Dorothy Ruth . . . served as
conservator from 1984 to the date of Freeman's death in
Following the death of [their mother], Freeman lived in [his
mother's house] in Waucoma. Although Freeman was able to
drive his car and purchase groceries, the evidence indicates
he did not take care of all of his daily personal needs. For
instance, his sister, Dorothy Ruth, would do his laundry,
prepare meals, clean the house, purchase clothes, and require
him to bathe.
Dorothy Ruth managed Freeman's financial affairs. She was
responsible for paying for home repairs, paying utilities,
managing checking and savings accounts, paying individuals
who did work at Freeman's residence, paying doctor bills,
obtaining and paying car insurance, paying car and property
insurance, purchasing clothes for Freeman, managing
Freeman's investments and annuities, arranging for food
and for medical care, and preparation of his tax returns.
[Melanie Mae Fisher, Dorothy Ruth's daughter, served with
her mother as a co-conservator of Freeman.]
7. In 2008, Dorothy Ruth purchased a new home for Freeman in
Waucoma, Iowa. This is where Freeman lived until his death.