Chariton Grove Cemetery Ass'n v. Love

Decision Date01 February 2022
Docket NumberWD84657
PartiesCHARITON GROVE CEMETERY ASSOCIATION, Appellant, v. GREGORY LOVE, et al., Respondents.
CourtCourt of Appeal of Missouri (US)

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Macon County The Honorable Mike Greenwell, Judge

Before Alok Ahuja, P.J., and Edward R. Ardini, Jr. and Janet L Sutton, JJ.

Alok Ahuja, Judge

Donna Lynn Siebold died in 2020, and a will she had executed in February 2019 was presented to the Circuit Court of Macon County for probate. Although it was entitled to one-half of Siebold's estate under the 2019 will, Chariton Grove Cemetery Association was the sole beneficiary under an earlier will. The Cemetery Association filed a petition in the circuit court to contest the 2019 will. The Cemetery Association's petition also sought to discover assets allegedly belonging to Siebold's estate, which were held by third parties. The circuit court dismissed the Cemetery Association's petition on its own motion, finding that the Cemetery Association had failed to comply with the six-month limitations period for will contests established by § 473.083.[1] The Cemetery Association appeals. We conclude that the Cemetery Association lacks standing to contest the 2019 will. We also conclude, however, that the Cemetery Association's discovery of assets claim was timely filed, and should not have been dismissed. We accordingly affirm in part and reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings with respect to the discovery of assets claim.

Factual Background

Because we review the circuit court's grant of a motion to dismiss, we recite the facts as alleged in the Cemetery Association's petition. Graves v. Mo. Dep't of Corr., 630 S.W.3d 769, 772 (Mo. 2021).

Donna Lynn Siebold executed a last will and testament on May 10 2016. In her 2016 will, Siebold left all of her assets to her husband, Duane Siebold. The will specified that, if Duane Siebold did not survive her, the entirety of Siebold's estate would pass to the Chariton Grove Cemetery Association which operates a cemetery where members of Siebold's family are interred.

Duane Siebold died in January 2019. Thus, under the 2016 will, the Cemetery Association stood to receive the entirety of Siebold's estate on her death.

On February 5, 2019, Siebold executed a second will. The 2019 will devised a one-half interest in Siebold's estate to Marisa Bechtle, Siebold's granddaughter, and to Daniel W Bechtle, the husband of Siebold's deceased daughter. Under the 2019 will, Siebold devised the other half of her estate to the Cemetery Association. Also on February 5, 2019, Siebold executed two additional documents: a power of attorney appointing Cheryl Lock as her attorney in fact; and a beneficiary deed for real estate she owned, which gave a one-half beneficiary interest to the Bechtles, and the other one-half interest to the Cemetery Association.

The Cemetery Association alleged that, after being appointed as Siebold's attorney in fact, Lock opened a bank account in Siebold's name, which designated Daniel Bechtle as the sole account beneficiary on Siebold's death. The Cemetery Association alleges that in May and June 2019 Lock sold real estate owned by Siebold, and deposited the proceeds, totaling over $260, 000, into the bank account.

Siebold died on May 28, 2020.

Gregory Love was designated as Siebold's personal representative in the 2019 will. On September 21, 2020, Love filed applications in the Circuit Court of Macon County to probate Siebold's 2019 will and to publish letters testamentary. A Notice of Letters Testamentary was first published on November 4, 2020.

The Cemetery Association filed a Petition to Contest Will and Establish Constructive Trust on May 4, 2021. In Count I, the Cemetery Association alleged that the 2019 will was invalid because Siebold lacked the mental capacity to make a will on February 5, 2019, and because the will was procured by undue influence. The Cemetery Association's Petition requested that Siebold's 2016 will (under which it was the sole remaining beneficiary) be admitted to probate instead of the 2019 will. The Cemetery Association attached a purported copy of Siebold's 2016 will as an exhibit to its Petition. The Cemetery Association concedes, however, that it did not "present" the 2016 will to the circuit court in the manner required by § 473.050.2.

Count II of the Cemetery Association's Petition alleged that Siebold was not competent to execute the 2019 Power of Attorney appointing Lock as her attorney in fact, or the beneficiary deed to real property which was executed at the same time. Count II also alleged that those documents had been procured by undue influence. Count II alleged that Lock, Love, the Bechtles, and the bank where Lock opened the account (collectively "the defendants") had possession of money and real estate belonging to Siebold's estate. Count II alleged that the defendants "are adversely withholding the bank accounts, and possibly real estate, and claiming them as the property of Daniel Bechtle and possibly Marissa Bechtle and not the property of Donna Lynn Siebold's estate." The Petition alleged that the defendants' possession of those assets was "unfair and wrong," and would unjustly enrich the Bechtles. Count II prayed

that the Court discover the full nature of property belonging] to Donna Lynn Siebold, establish and impose a constructive trust in [the estate] as to such property . . . for the benefit of the devisee named in Donna Lynn Siebold's 2016 [will], and direct the delivery and transfer of said property to the personal representative of the estate of Donna Lynn Siebold, to be distributed pursuant to the dictates of the May 10, 2016 Will, and render judgment in favor of the personal representative for all losses and expenses and damages, including interest as provided by law and for such other and further relief as this Court deems just and proper.

On June 4, 2021, the circuit court entered an order on its own motion, dismissing the entirety of the Cemetery Association's Petition, on the basis that it was not "timely filed within 6 months of the date of first publication as required by 473.083 RSMo." In finding the Petition untimely, the circuit court counted the date of first publication of the Notice of Letters Testamentary as the first day of the limitations period.

The Cemetery Association filed a motion to vacate the order of dismissal three days later. In its motion to vacate, the Cemetery Association argued that it had timely filed its will contest, because under § 1.040 and Supreme Court Rule 44.01, the six-month limitations period specified in § 473.083 began to run on the day after the publication of notice. The motion to vacate also alleged that, whether or not the Cemetery Association's will contest was timely, "Count two of the petition is an action to establish a constructive trust, which is independent from and unaffected by the six month time limit in § 473.083 RSMo."

Following a hearing, the circuit court overruled the motion to vacate on July 6, 2021, and the Cemetery Association filed this appeal.

Standard of Review
"This Court reviews a circuit court's sustaining of a motion to dismiss de novo." In reviewing such a motion, the "Court must accept all properly pleaded facts as true, giv[e] the pleadings their broadest intendment, and construe all allegations" in the pleader's favor.

Graves v. Mo. Dep't of Corr., 630 S.W.3d 769, 772 (Mo. 2021) (quoting Mo. State Conf. of NAACP v. State, 601 S.W.3d 241, 246 (Mo. 2020) (other citation omitted)). "The dismissal of a claim as barred by the statute of limitations raises a question of law that this court reviews on a de novo basis." Wiedner v. Ferrellgas, Inc., 607 S.W.3d 231, 241 (Mo. App. W.D. 2020) (citation omitted). In addition, "[s]tanding is a question of law, which is reviewed de novo." Cope v. Parson, 570 S.W.3d 579, 583 (Mo. 2019) (quoting Manzara v. State, 343 S.W.3d 656, 659 (Mo. 2011)).


In its first Point, the Cemetery Association argues that the circuit court erred in dismissing as untimely the will-contest claim asserted in Count I of the Cemetery Association's Petition.

Before addressing the merits of the Cemetery Association's first Point, we must first determine whether the issue is justiciable.

Justiciability is a "prudential" rather than a jurisdictional doctrine. "A justiciable controversy exists where [1] the plaintiff has a legally protectable interest at stake, [2] a substantial controversy exists between parties with genuinely adverse interests, and [3] that controversy is ripe for judicial determination."
The first two elements of justiciability are encompassed jointly by the concept of "standing." "Prudential principles of justiciability, to which this Court has long adhered, require that a party have standing to bring an action. Standing requires that a party have a personal stake arising from a threatened or actual injury."
[A] primary objective of the standing doctrine is to assure that there is a sufficient controversy between the parties that the case will be adequately presented to the court. That, plus the purpose of preventing parties from creating controversies in matters in which they are not involved and which do not directly affect them are the principal reasons for the rule which requires standing. Standing is a necessary component of a justiciable case that must be shown to be present prior to adjudication on the merits.

Schweich v. Nixon, 408 S.W.3d 769, 773-74 (Mo. 2013) (citations and footnote omitted).

Section 473.083.1 provides that "any person interested in the probate of a will" may file a petition contesting the validity of the will. The statute specifies that

[a]n heir, devisee, trustee or

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