Erickson v. McKee (In re Estate of McKee), Docket No. 38130

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Idaho
Writing for the CourtBURDICK
PartiesIN THE MATTER OF THE ESTATE OF NATALIE PARKS MC KEE, DECEASED. MAUREEN ERICKSON, Personal representative, Petitioner-Appellant, v. JEROME S. MC KEE, Respondent-Respondent on Appeal.
Decision Date13 June 2012
Docket NumberDocket No. 38130

MAUREEN ERICKSON, Personal representative, Petitioner-Appellant,
JEROME S. MC KEE, Respondent-Respondent on Appeal.

Docket No. 38130


Filed: June 13, 2012

Coeur d'Alene, April 2012 Term

2012 Opinion No. 91

Stephen W. Kenyon, Clerk

Appeal from the District Court of the First Judicial District, State of Idaho,
Shoshone County.
Hon. Fred M. Gibler, District Judge; Hon. Patrick R.
McFadden, Magistrate.

District Court decision affirming Magistrate, affirmed.

Lloyd A. Herman, Spokane Valley, WA., argued for appellant.

Dean & Kolts, Coeur d'Alene, for respondent. Charles R. Dean Jr. argued.

BURDICK, Chief Justice

This case concerns an appeal of the magistrate court's Finding of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Order denying Appellant Maureen Erickson's Motion for Partial Distribution of her mother's estate. The magistrate court found that the property Maureen sought to partially distribute was not part of the assets of her mother's estate. On appeal to the district court, the court affirmed the decision of the magistrate court and alternatively found that the matter was barred by the statute of limitations. We affirm the district court's decision that this case was barred by the statute of limitations.

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Based upon a holographic will dated June 26, 1994, Maureen Erickson (Maureen) filed an Application for Informal Probate of Will on January 23, 2006, for her mother's, Natalie Parks McKee (Natalie), estate listing only herself and her father Bill McKee (Bill) in the section for "spouse, children, heirs, and devisees." Maureen requested that her mother's holographic will dated June 26, 1994, be informally probated. The application indicated that Natalie Parks McKee died on December 19, 1994, and that "tardy probate and appointment are authorized because [Maureen] was not aware of the whereabouts of the holographic will of the decedent dated June 26, 1994, until 2004, when said will was discovered by [Maureen]." The will states:

I will all of my portion of our property, real and personal, and every part of our estate to my daughter - Maureen Katherine McKee Erickson [and] also appoint her executrix of our estate.
I do this knowing she will help Jerome Storm McKee (her brother) and his family should they ever need it.
The household items may be divided between them with first choice going to Maureen.
I am of sound mind and have not been influenced by anyone.
Natalie Parks McKee
June 26, 1994.

The Affidavit of Bill McKee, filed on the same day as the Application, stated that Bill was aware of his wife's holographic will because it was in his safety deposit box and that he did not provide it to Maureen until August 17, 2004. Finally, a Preliminary Inventory was also filed, listing a tract of land1 (the River Property) in Shoshone County, Idaho, as the sole asset of Natalie's estate.

Subsequent to the filing of Letters Testamentary, Jerome S. McKee (Jerome), Maureen's brother, filed a Demand for Notice pursuant to I.C. § 15-3-204 on July 12, 2006, and a Motion to Dismiss Probate on January 5, 2007. A memorandum was also filed on January 5, 2007, in which Jerome stated that the filing of his mother's will was barred by the provisions of I.C. § 15-3-108.

On January 16, 2007, Maureen filed a Motion for Partial Distribution of her mother's estate, seeking distribution of an undivided ¼ interest in the River Property. Jerome filed an objection to Maureen's motion, which included copies of a community property agreement between Bill and Natalie, dated and recorded July 12, 1988; and a Quitclaim Deed transferring

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Bill's interest in the River Property to Jerome and Mina C. McKee, dated and recorded March 13, 2000.

Another affidavit of Bill's was filed on March 8, 2007, which stated that he had executed a community property agreement on July 12, 1988, but had agreed with his wife later that they would leave all of their property to Maureen, who was without the resources to put her sons through college. He also stated that the whole family was present when he and his wife announced their wishes to leave their property to Maureen and that the family agreed with their decision. Further, he stated that his wife's will was drawn up before this meeting with the family; that he recognized that the will would revoke the community property agreement; that he was very depressed after his wife's death, and during this time he deeded the River Property to his son Jerome; that he kept his wife's will a secret; and that his son had talked him into deeding his interest in the River Property.

On March 16, 2007, the magistrate court held a hearing to consider the Motion for Partial Distribution, the Motion to Dismiss Probate, and a Motion to Strike the Affidavit of Bill E. McKee. The court pronounced its decision orally in open court and denied the Motion for Partial Distribution because the River Property was not an asset of Natalie's estate, as it had passed to Bill pursuant to the Community Property Agreement and was later deeded to Jerome and Mina McKee. The magistrate court also denied the motion to dismiss the probate because of other possible issues and matters that may be considered at a later date. The partial transcript that was subsequently filed in the record included one paragraph from the magistrate court's pronouncements on the record:

In summary, the Court's rulings today are limited to upholding the validity of the community property agreement. Other potential remedies may be pursued by Ms. Erickson against Bill McKee for fraud based upon his actions as set forth in his affidavit or possibly against Jerome McKee if he was complaisant [sic] in any fraud that may have been perpetrated against Ms. Erickson. Any potential cause of action does not affect the title to the land the subject of the motion for partial distribution.

Erickson filed a Motion for Reconsideration on April 30, 2007, framing it in summary judgment terms by stating that there was a material question of fact regarding the intent of the McKees to rescind their community property agreement. An amended motion was filed to set a date for a hearing through new counsel over two years later on July 29, 2009, stating that additional evidence was located during a guardianship proceeding filed in Idaho. This evidence

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included admissions by Bill of his and his wife's intent to rescind the community property agreement, and an admission that the two had entered into mutual wills rescinding the agreement. The magistrate court's Decision and Order on Amended Motion for Reconsideration denied the motion as Erickson had failed to produce any signed holographic will signed by Bill to support the asserted facts in the motion. The court also denied the motion on grounds that it was not timely, finding that it was unfairly prejudicial to Jerome. The original motion was filed timely, but was not properly noticed for hearing and the amended motion was not filed until 27 months after the court's ruling. Maureen then filed a notice of appeal to the district court. Jerome then filed a motion to dismiss the appeal, arguing the decisions were non-appealable.

The district court filed its Decision on Appeal on May 18, 2010, and affirmed the orders challenged on appeal, making its findings and conclusions on the record. The district judge stated on the record:

So the first conclusion I have come to is that there was not a final judgment from which an appeal may be taken. Beyond that, though, because the issue which has been presented upon appeal was actually decided by the magistrate court and because it was decisive, treated it as final, I intend to address the merits of the appeal.
. . .
I think that I, as an appellate court in this capacity, have the authority to consider the motion on its merits, notwithstanding that I would have the option to simply state that there was no final appealable order. So I intend to do so.
The first issue was the effect of the community property agreement. The magistrate court was correct that upon the death of Natalie Parks and the recording of the community property agreement, the property became vested in William McKee and was therefore not part of her estate. The court's initial decision was correct.
Next we have the motion to reconsider. Here the magistrate court found that insufficient

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