Johnson v. Johnson, 16777

Decision Date04 December 1987
Docket NumberNo. 16777,16777
Citation113 Idaho 602,746 P.2d 1061
Parties, 56 USLW 2347 Wayne JOHNSON, Individually, and as Personal Representative of the Estate of Dale Lee Johnson, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. Gale Ann JOHNSON, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtIdaho Court of Appeals

Simon S. Martin (Hansen, Beard, Martin & St. Clair, Ctd.), Idaho Falls, for defendant-appellant.

Blair J. Grover (Grover & Walker, Chartered), Rigby, for plaintiff-respondent.


This is an appeal from a summary judgment declaring that the proceeds of an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) belong to the estate of the deceased depositor rather than to his former spouse. The dispositive question is whether the former spouse, who has been listed as the account beneficiary, waived any claim to the account as part of a property settlement agreement during the divorce. The district court held that she did. Constrained by current Idaho case law, we affirm.

The essential facts are undisputed. In 1981, Dale and Gale Johnson, then husband and wife, contracted with the Idaho First National Bank to open two IRAs, one in the name of each spouse. Dale's account named him as depositor and Gale as the beneficiary upon his death. Subsequently, the Johnsons were divorced. Pursuant to stipulation, a divorce decree was entered in the magistrate division of the district court dividing the couple's property. The decree incorporated a property settlement, signed by the parties, awarding to Dale the IRA for which he was the named depositor. The decree recited that the IRA and other items of property were awarded "for his sole and separate use and benefit, free and clear of any claims of [Gale]." The decree further ordered the parties to "sign all necessary documents ... to accomplish the above described property division." Similarly, Gale retained the IRA for which she was the named depositor. Dale died less than three years later without changing the name of the beneficiary listed on his IRA contract.

Shortly after Dale's death, the personal representative of his estate brought suit against Gale Johnson, seeking a declaration that the proceeds from Dale's IRA were part of the estate. Gale Johnson counterclaimed for a judgment declaring that the account belonged to her as the named beneficiary. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court ruled in favor of the estate. Gale appealed.

Our analysis begins by reciting the standard of review. When summary judgment has been entered below, we must decide whether there exist genuine issues of material fact and, if not, whether the prevailing party was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. E.g., Miller v. United States Fidelity & Guaranty Insurance Company, 112 Idaho 955, 738 P.2d 425 (Ct.App.1987). Here, the facts are undisputed. Consequently, our inquiry is narrowed to whether the estate was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. On this question we exercise free review.

Gale makes two arguments in support of her claim to the retirement account. First, she asserts that the IRA should be treated as a multiple-party account--specifically a "payable on death" or "POD" account--pursuant to sections 15-6-101(10) and 15-6-104(b) of the Idaho Uniform Probate Code. Second, she contends that she did not waive her interest in the IRA by executing the property settlement agreement that was incorporated into the divorce decree. The district court held the divorce decree to be controlling:

The [property settlement] agreement between Dale Lee Johnson and Gale Ann Johnson as to the ownership of the I.R.A. account in question clearly and without any ambiguity provided for the ownership of that account by Dale Lee Johnson. The express agreement was accepted by the trial court as evidenced by its decree distributing the ownership of the said I.R.A. account to Dale Lee Johnson. Clearly, the ownership of this I.R.A. account was vested in Dale Lee Johnson by express agreement and court decree.

The court implicitly held that Gale had waived any future claim she might have as a beneficiary of the account. For reasons to which we now turn, we think this holding is consistent with Idaho case law but is open to question.

Preliminarily, we note that the IRA does not lend itself to facile labeling. It arguably contains elements of a "POD" account, of a multiple-party account, of a trust account, and even of a life insurance policy. 1 However, the characterization of the IRA is not important. For even if the IRA were a "POD" account, as Gale claims, the question would remain as to whether she waived any rights as a beneficiary during the divorce proceedings. We now focus on that question.

Prior to his death, Dale owned all the rights to the IRA. He could have removed all the funds deposited. He had complete control--after the divorce, at least--over the designation of a beneficiary. Conversely, Gale owned no rights to the IRA. She had no property interest. She had nothing more than an inchoate expectancy--a contingent interest as a beneficiary in the event of Dale's death. Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that such an interest existed and that it was separate from an ownership...

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6 cases
  • State v. Biggs
    • United States
    • Idaho Court of Appeals
    • 4 Diciembre 1987
  • Schultz v. Schultz
    • United States
    • Iowa Supreme Court
    • 24 Marzo 1999
    ...payment of life insurance proceeds or the payment of a retirement account to a decedent's former spouse. See Johnson v. Johnson, 113 Idaho 602, 746 P.2d 1061, 1062 (Ct.App.1987) (holding characterization of IRA is not important; issue is whether ex-spouse "waived any rights as a beneficiary......
  • Broom v. Broom, 1551-90-4
    • United States
    • Virginia Court of Appeals
    • 22 Diciembre 1992
    ...that Code section was enacted or subsequently amended. "[T]he IRA does not lend itself to facile labeling." Johnson v. Johnson, 113 Idaho 602, 603, 746 P.2d 1061, 1062 (1987). It is a device by which a present tax advantage is given by the government as an inducement to save. No employment ......
  • Estate of Leier, Matter of
    • United States
    • North Dakota Supreme Court
    • 16 Noviembre 1994
    ...not lend itself to easy labeling and arguably contains elements of an "account" with a "P.O.D. designation." See Johnson v. Johnson, 113 Idaho 602, 746 P.2d 1061 (Ct.App.1987); Graves v. Summit Bank, 541 N.E.2d 974 (Ind.Ct.App.1989); Broom v. Broom, 15 Va.App. 497, 425 S.E.2d 90 (1992). Nev......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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