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Case No. 18-1658

In the Matter of the Estate of Charles H. Kline, Deceased.

Tom J. Kline, Plaintiff-Appellant

Mary Jo Culp, Defendant-Appellee

Attorney for Appellant

Matthew C. McDermott, Ryan G. Koopmans, and Erika L. Bauer

Attorney for Appellee

Matthew D. Gardner

Court of Appeals

Court of Appeals Opinion

Opinion Number:
Date Published:
Nov 27, 2019

            Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Craig E. Block, Associate Probate Judge.  REVERSED AND REMANDED.  Considered by Potterfield, P.J., and Mullins and Greer, JJ.  Opinion by Greer, J.  Special Concurrence by Potterfield, P.J.  (21 pages)

            After a bench trial, the probate court concluded that Tom Kline had failed to establish that his sister, Mary Culp, unduly influenced their father or intentionally interfered with Tom’s inheritance when their father made her a joint owner of all of his bank accounts and certificates of deposit, thereby effectively disinheriting Tom.  OPINION HOLDS: The probate court failed to consider the proper burden of proof and factors when determining whether Mary stood in a confidential relationship to her father.  We conclude a confidential relationship existed between Mary and her father and the burden of proof should have shifted to Mary to rebut the presumption of undue influence by clear, convincing, and satisfactory evidence that she acted in good faith throughout the transaction and her father made the transfer knowingly and intelligently.  We also conclude that Mary failed to rebut the presumption of undue influence and the account assets should be distributed according to the father’s will.  Finally, we conclude that Tom proved Mary intentionally interfered with Tom’s inheritance and he is entitled to damages.  The case is remanded to the probate court for consideration of damages.  SPECIAL CONCURRENCE ASSERTS: I agree with the majority’s conclusion on the substantive issues presented here, but I write separately to quarrel with the formulation of the standard of review on the claim of intentional interference with an inheritance. I would not like to give our district court judges or lawyers the suggestion that a motion to bifurcate was necessary or useful in these circumstances.

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