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In re Estate of Siefkas

Court of Appeals of Iowa

January 9, 2020

IN THE MATTER OF THE ESTATE OF ROBERT EARL SIEFKAS, Deceased. MICHAEL SIEFKAS, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Clarke County, John D. Lloyd, Judge.

         A beneficiary appeals the district court's order in an estate proceeding.

          Peter M. Sand, Des Moines, for appellant.

          Richard O. McConville of Coppola, McConville, Carroll, Hockenberg & Flynn, P.C., West Des Moines, for appellee.

          Heard by Vaitheswaran, P.J., Mullins, J., and Potterfield, S.J.

          MULLINS, JUDGE.

         Michael Siefkas appeals a district court order in a proceeding concerning his father's estate. Michael argues the district court erred in determining a jointly-held account should be listed on the estate inventory and was subject to attorney fees. He also argues the jointly-held account was not an estate asset.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         Robert Siefkas passed away in September 2017. His spouse preceded him in death. Robert left four sons, William, Steven, [1] Robert J. (Jim), and Michael. Robert left a duly executed will that was submitted to probate by attorney Richard Murphy in October 2017. Robert's estate included real property and various items of personal property. Robert also had three bank accounts held jointly with his sons. One checking account, ending 5094, was held jointly with Michael. Michael said discussions with Robert indicated the 5094 account was a "business account" linked to a home being rented by Jim. Another checking account, ending 1511, was held jointly with Steven. Michael indicated the 1511 account was similarly linked to the home being rented by Steven. A third checking account, ending 3324, contained more than $190, 000 and was held jointly with Steven and Michael. Nearly six months after Robert's death, Steven and Michael evenly split the remainder of the 3324 account. In February 2018, the inventory form was filed with the court, which included all three checking accounts as jointly-held interests of the deceased. Michael questioned the inclusion of account 3324 on the inventory and complained Murphy did not answer his questions.

         Jim petitioned to have Michael replaced as the executor. Following a hearing in August 2018, William was appointed to replace Michael as executor of the estate. Michael then moved for approval of an executor's fee and to correct the inventory by removing account 3324. Following a hearing in November, the district court found account 3324 was properly included on the inventory form and included the account in analyzing a reasonable fee for Michael's services as the executor until he was removed. Michael filed a motion to reconsider, enlarge, or amend pursuant to Iowa Rule of Civil Procedure 1.904(2), asking the court to, among other things, clarify whether account 3324 was an estate asset. The motion was denied. Michael appeals.

         II. Analysis

         Michael makes three arguments on appeal. First, Michael argues the district court erred in finding account 3324 should be included on the probate inventory form. Second, Michael argues the district court erred in finding account 3324 was subject to attorney fees. Third, Michael argues account 3324 is not an estate asset. Also, in Michael's reply brief, he asks this court to disregard eighty-five pages of a transcript from a hearing not on appeal. Those pages are not relevant to the issues on appeal and we do not consider them.

         Because the estate asset issue is distinguishable from the inventory and attorney fee issues, we begin with a discussion of estate assets. Michael argues account 3324 should not be considered an estate asset. Although the court found account 3324 should be listed on the inventory form, the court denied the 1.904(2) motion and declined to rule on the question of whether the account was an estate asset. Specific types of probate proceedings are statutorily deemed "law actions," including "[a]ctions to set aside or contest wills . . . and for the establishment of contested claims." Iowa Code § 633.33 (2017). A challenge to the contents of a decedent's gross estate is not explicitly included in the statutory language. See id. The estate argues the issue should be framed as a contested claim, rendering this a law action pursuant to section 633.33. Michael has not appealed the district court's decision concerning his fee claim. His only claims on appeal relate to matters of administration, which are in equity and reviewed de novo. In re Estate of Cory, 184 N.W.2d 693, 696-97 (Iowa 1971).

         Probate assets are property items belonging to a decedent that are "subject to administration by a personal representative." Iowa Code § 633.3(31). However, certain types of property transfer ownership outside of probate proceedings. See Iowa Code § 633.5 (stating life insurance proceeds are not estate property unless made payable to a decedent's estate); In re Estate of Roehlke, 231 N.W.2d 26, 28 ...


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