Chambers v. Bringenberg, S-20-593

CourtSupreme Court of Nebraska
Writing for the CourtFREUDENBERG, J.
PartiesJames Chambers, Personal Representative of the Estate of David L. Chambers, appellee, v. Angie Bringenberg, appellant.
Docket NumberS-20-593
Decision Date06 August 2021

309 Neb. 888

James Chambers, Personal Representative of the Estate of David L. Chambers, appellee,

Angie Bringenberg, appellant.

No. S-20-593

Supreme Court of Nebraska

August 6, 2021

1. Summary Judgment: Appeal and Error. Summary judgment is proper when the pleadings and evidence admitted at the hearing disclose no genuine issue regarding any material fact or the ultimate inferences that may be drawn from those facts and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In reviewing a summary judgment, an appellate court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the party against whom the judgment is granted and gives such party the benefit of all reasonable inferences deducible from the evidence.

2. Statutes: Appeal and Error. To the extent an appeal calls for statutory interpretation or presents questions of law, an appellate court must reach an independent conclusion irrespective of the determination made by the court below.

3. Statutes: Intent. When interpreting a statute, the starting point and focus of the inquiry is the meaning of the statutory language, understood in context.

4. Statutes. It is not within the province of the courts to read a meaning into a statute that is not there or to read anything direct and plain out of a statute.

5. Statutes: Appeal and Error. Statutory language is to be given its plain and ordinary meaning, and an appellate court will not resort to interpretation to ascertain the meaning of statutory words which are plain, direct, and unambiguous.

6. Decedents' Estates: Deeds: Homesteads. Transfer-on-death deeds are not subject to the requirements of Neb. Rev. Stat. § 40-104 (Reissue 2016).

7. Decedents' Estates: Deeds. The Nebraska Uniform Real Property Transfer on Death Act allows, through a transfer-on-death deed, for the nonprobate transfer of real estate after the death of the transferor.

[309 Neb. 889] 8. Decedents' Estates: Deeds: Wills. Under transfer-on-death deeds, property changes hands after death through the nonprobate means of asset-specific will substitutes, sometimes called nonprobate wills.

9. Decedents' Estates: Wills: Property. Nonprobate wills are designed to provide an avenue for transferring property after death that is less expensive and time consuming than probate court proceedings.

10. Decedents' Estates: Deeds. A transfer of real property through a transfer-on-death deed is effective at the transferor's death and at all times until then is fully revocable.

11. Decedents' Estates: Deeds: Words and Phrases. A "designated beneficiary" of a transfer-on-death deed is the person designated to receive property in a transfer-on-death deed, while the "beneficiary" is a person who actually receives property under a transfer-on-death deed.

12. Decedents' Estates: Deeds: Taxes. The property transferred after death via a transfer-on-death deed is subject to inheritance taxes.

13. Decedents' Estates: Deeds. During a transferor's life, a transfer-on-death deed does not affect any interest of the transferor, transferee, or third parties.

14. Decedents' Estates: Deeds: Intent. The provision of Neb. Rev. Stat. § 76-3407 (Reissue 2018) that a transfer-on-death deed is nontestamen-tary was intended to clarify that the transfer-on-death deed does not have to be executed with the formalities of a will and does not need to be probated.

15. Decedents' Estates: Deeds. Neb. Rev. Stat. § 76-3407 (Reissue 2018) does not change the fundamental feature of a transfer-on-death deed that it does not operate until the transferor's death.

16. ____: _____ .A transfer-on-death deed is not an inter vivos grant. 17. Decedents' Estates: Deeds: Statutes. A transfer-on-death deed is a term of art that has no common-law background; it is authorized by statute.

18. Decedents' Estates: Deeds. Transfer-on-death deeds are inherently quitclaim deeds, with the important distinction that they take effect only upon the transferor's death and pass only whatever interest the decedent had in the property at death.

19. ____:___. On the death of the transferor, the beneficiary to the property subject to the transfer-on-death deed takes the property subject to all conveyances, encumbrances, assignments, contracts, mortgages, liens, and other interests to which the property is subject at the transferor's death.

20. Decedents' Estates: Liability. If other assets of the transferor's estate are insufficient to pay all claims against it, as well as statutory allowances to the transferor's surviving spouse and children, and the expenses of administration, then the beneficiary is subject to personal liability

[309 Neb. 890] to the extent needed to pay all claims against the transferor's estate, statutory allowances to the transferor's surviving spouse and children, and the expenses of administration.

21. Decedents' Estates: Deeds. Any property subject to a transfer-on-death deed is includable in the calculation of the augmented estate under Neb. Rev. Stat. § 30-2314 (Reissue 2016).

22. Decedents' Estates: Deeds: Liability. A beneficiary who receives property through a transfer-on-death deed is liable to account to the personal representative of the transferor's estate for a proportionate share of the fair market value of the equity in the interest the beneficiary received to the extent necessary to discharge the claims and allowances remaining unpaid after application of the transferor's estate.

23. Decedents' Estates: Accounting: Time. A proceeding to account must be commenced within 1 year after the death of the transferor and may not be commenced unless the personal representative has received a written demand by the surviving spouse, a creditor, a child, or a person acting for a child of the transferor to do so.

24. Decedents' Estates: Deeds: Time. The transfer-on-death deed must be recorded within 30 days after being executed, but this recording creates no ownership rights or rights of priority against subsequent creditors or other claimants to the property that is the subject of the transfer-on-death deed.

25. Homesteads: Legislature: Intent. The purpose of the Legislature in enacting the homestead statutes was to protect the debtor and the debtor's family residing in a home from the forced sale of the home on execution or attachment.

26. Homesteads. The requisite occupancy is the most important factor in determining whether property is the homestead, because this is the test established by the homestead statutes.

27. ____ .A homestead is not dependent upon ownership, and it does not create ownership interests. 28. _ . Any interest in real estate, either legal or equitable, that gives a present right of occupancy or possession, followed by exclusive occupancy, is sufficient to support a homestead right therein.

29. ____.There are exceptions to the requirement of actual occupancy to establish a homestead only where either (1) a property occupied as a homestead has been temporarily vacated without abandonment, and with a bona fide and subsisting intention to return, or (2) the claimant with the claimant's family have the bona fide present intention of making the property the homestead, some intervening obstruction prevents immediate actual possession, the claimant clearly manifests the intention of making the property the homestead to put others on notice, and the family occupies the land as circumstances reasonably permit.

[309 Neb. 891]

30. Homesteads: Sales: Time. While the amount of the proceeds from the sale of a homestead are protected for a period of 6 months from a sale executed and acknowledged by both spouses, and may be reinvested into a new homestead, real estate purchased with the sale of a homestead does not become the new homestead unless the requisite occupancy, actual or constructive, is present.

31. Homesteads. Because the object of the homestead legislation is to conserve the family by keeping a roof over it, the homestead, at least so long as the family continues to reside there and to the extent it cannot be separated without depriving the family of its actual home, is something more than the present worth of the exemption the homestead statutes allow.

32. ____. Neb. Rev. Stat. § 40-104 (Reissue 2016) was designed to accomplish the goal of keeping a roof over the family by preventing the possibility of the indivisible family home being unilaterally conveyed or encumbered by fraud, thereby interfering with the family's rights to occupancy.

33. Homesteads: Deeds. An inter vivos deed conveying nonhome-stead property is valid between the parties despite the lack of proper acknowledgment.

34. Homesteads. The conveyance of the family homestead away from the family during the conveyor spouse's lifetime without both spouses' execution and acknowledgment is invalid.

35. ____ . The statutory provision requiring that the conveyance of a homestead be executed by both husband and wife applies to a homestead in which both have a homestead interest and cannot be relied on by a spouse who lacks the requisite occupancy to invalidate the occupying spouse's unilateral encumbrance or conveyance of real estate.

36. Homesteads: Wills: Title. A spouse's unilateral devise of that spouse's title to the homestead real estate via a last will and testament is valid, albeit subject to the homestead allowance and the surviving spouse's statutory life estate, when that was in effect.

37. Homesteads. Homestead statutes do not prohibit testamentary disposition of the homestead premises by the owner, although sometimes the surviving spouse and children are given certain rights in the land.

38. Homesteads: Title. A spouse with title to property, in whole or in part, does not, by permitting the property to be occupied as the family homestead, give up the right that spouse would otherwise have to devise that spouse's ownership interest.

39. Decedents' Estates: Deeds:...

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