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Fitzmaurice v. Estate of Hammer

February 24, 2010

MICHAEL J. FITZMAURICE, SOUTH DAKOTA STATE VETERANS HOME, APPELLANT,
v.
IN THE MATTER OF THE ESTATE OF MILDRED A. HAMMER, DECEASED, APPELLEE.



APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE SEVENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT FALL RIVER COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA, HONORABLE JANINE KERN Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Meierhenry, Justice

CONSIDERED ON BRIEFS ON JANUARY 11, 2010

[¶1.] The Michael J. Fitzmaurice South Dakota Veterans' Home (Home) appeals the circuit court's order disallowing its claim under SDCL 33-18-16 for services provided to Ernest Hammer (Ernest) before his death. The Home filed a petition for allowance of claim pursuant to SDCL 33-18-16 to recover the costs for Ernest's care from the estate of Ernest's wife, Mildred Hammer (Mildred). The circuit court concluded Ernest died without passing an estate to Mildred, and therefore, the Home could not recover the costs incurred in providing care to him under SDCL 33-18-16.

FACTS AND BACKGROUND

[¶2.] Ernest was a resident at the Home from November 2007 until his death on April 25, 2008. The total expense to the State for his care was $13,113.20. Ernest's only assets were a home and a life insurance policy. Upon Ernest's death, the home passed to Mildred as a joint tenant with right of survivorship. Likewise, Mildred received the proceeds of the life insurance policy as the named beneficiary. Mildred died on June 24, 2008. Ernest and Mildred's daughter, Diane Hammer (Personal Representative), was named personal representative of Mildred's estate in July 2008.

[¶3.] After Mildred's death, the Home filed a claim against her estate to recover the costs of Ernest's care at the Home. The Home's claim was based on statutory procedures set forth in SDCL ch. 33-18. The Personal Representative filed a notice to disallow the claim. She maintained the statutes presumed that the deceased member of the Home had an estate that passed to the surviving spouse.

Personal Representative indicated that Ernest had no estate because his home automatically transferred to Mildred upon his death, and the insurance proceeds were paid to the beneficiary, not to Ernest's estate. Consequently, Personal Representative asserted that the Home's only claim was against the joint tenancy property pursuant to SDCL 43-46-2 rather than against Mildred's estate under SDCL 33-18-16. However, SDCL 43-46-2 requires a claim to be made within six months of a joint tenant's death. After a hearing on the matter, the circuit court agreed with Personal Representative and disallowed the claim. The circuit court concluded that the Home's remedy was under SDCL 43-46-2, but that the statute of limitations had expired. The Home appeals. The issues on appeal are whether Ernest had an estate against which the Home could make a claim under SDCL 33-18-16 or whether the Home was limited to a claim against the joint tenancy under SDCL 43-46-2.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

[¶4.] Statutory interpretation is a question of law reviewed de novo. State v. Guerra, 2009 SD 74, ¶22, 772 NW2d 907, 913. Statutes must be interpreted according to the legislative intent. Wiersma v. Maple Leaf Farms, 1996 SD 16, ¶4, 543 NW2d 787, 789 (citation omitted). "Such intent is derived from the plain, ordinary and popular meaning of statutory language." Id.

"'Intent must be determined from the statute as a whole, as well as enactments relating to the same subject.'" Id.

(quoting Whalen v. Whalen, 490 NW2d 276, 280 (SD 1992)). A circuit court's conclusions of law are also reviewed de novo. State v. Moss, 2008 SD 64, ¶9, 754 NW2d 626, 629 (citation omitted). Thus, we review this matter de novo.

ANALYSIS

Whether Ernest Died Without Leaving an Estate to Mildred

[ΒΆ5.] To recover the costs of providing resident care to a veteran, the Home may file a claim against the deceased veteran's estate pursuant to SDCL 33-18-15 and SDCL 33-18-16. These statutes allow the Home to file a claim against the estate of the deceased resident; or, if the deceased resident's estate was payable to the spouse, the Home can delay its ...


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