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In re Estate of Laue

October 18, 2010

IN THE MATTER OF THE ESTATE OF DORIS BERYLE LAUE


APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE SEVENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT CUSTER COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA HONORABLE JOHN J. DELANEY Judge.

Per curiam.

CONSIDERED ON BRIEFS ON OCTOBER 4, 2010

[¶1.] Dale Laue (Dale) appeals from the circuit court's order for complete settlement of the estate of Doris Laue (Doris). We affirm.

Facts and Procedural History

[¶2.] Doris, a widow and resident of Custer County, South Dakota, died testate on February 8, 2004. She had three sons: Dale, Bryan, and Wayne. Wayne predeceased Doris in 2000, leaving three children of his own living in California. Wayne had been divorced and, at the time of his death, his property was placed in a trust for the benefit of his three children. There were four co-trustees of the trust including Wayne's brother, Bryan.

[¶3.] When Doris died, she left a will dated March 29, 1982. The will left all of her property to her husband, Richard or, if Richard predeceased her, to her three children, "equally, each to share and share alike." The will further provided that as to any of her children who predeceased her, that child's share of the estate should, "descend to and vest in the children of my deceased child... equally." The will named Richard executor and, if Richard predeceased Doris, Dale and Wayne, in turn, as successor executors.

[¶4.] Dale was granted letters as personal representative of Doris's estate on March 8, 2004. In late 2006, counsel for Wayne's three children petitioned for Dale's removal as personal representative. A hearing was held and on December 22, the circuit court entered findings of fact, conclusions of law and an order removing Dale as personal representative, converting the case to formal probate, and appointing Kenneth Campbell (Campbell) special administrator of the estate.

[¶5.] Among grounds for Dale's removal, the circuit court found that Dale failed to fulfill a number of duties required of the personal representative, particularly with regard to Wayne's children. The court further found that Dale's "antagonistic attitude" toward Wayne's ex-wife, Jodi, and conflicts with Wayne's family would likely foster endless litigation not in the best interests of the estate or the heirs. Based upon these findings, the circuit court determined it in the best interests of the estate to remove Dale as personal representative and entered its order accordingly.

[¶6.] Following his appointment as special administrator, Campbell proceeded to collect the estate's assets, inventory the property, investigate potential claims, and formulate a strategy for distribution to the heirs. In this process, Campbell filed a series of petitions for authorization of certain actions including permission to abandon potential estate claims against Wayne's trust for a real estate loan and some cemetery lots. A hearing was held on the petitions and orders directing abandonment of the claims were entered. Dale petitioned to vacate these orders and his petitions were denied.

[¶7.] In June 2007, Campbell filed a petition for confirmation of the estate's sale of 153 acres of real property in Custer County. The petition indicated an auction sale for the real estate was scheduled for July 31, 2007. Dale moved to enjoin the auction but his motion was denied. After the auction, Campbell filed a supplemental petition for confirmation of the sale of the real estate indicating the property was sold for over two and one-half million dollars (precisely $2,668,400). The petition further indicated a closing date was scheduled for the sale on August 20, 2007. After a hearing, an order confirming the sale of the real estate was entered.

[¶8.] Over the ensuing months, Campbell resolved various additional issues pertaining to the estate, made several partial distributions of assets, and filed interim and final accountings. On September 3, 2009, Campbell filed a petition for complete settlement after formal probate proceedings, asserting there were no additional matters pending and the estate was ready for closing. Dale objected on several grounds including the estate's abandonment of the claims against Wayne's trust and the court's failure to compel responses to requests for admissions issued by Dale during the course of the litigation. The petition for complete settlement was heard on October 26, 2009. On November 31, the court entered its order for complete settlement overruling Dale's objections, distributing the remaining assets, discharging the special administrator (Campbell), and declaring settlement of the estate complete.

[¶9.] Dale appeals the circuit court's order for complete settlement of the estate, raising the following issues:

1. Whether the special administrator had power to sell the real property of the estate.

2. Whether the special administrator was required to offset certain indebtedness of Wayne's trust to the estate against the inheritance of Wayne's three children.

3. Whether the special administrator breached his duty to inquire into certain debts allegedly owed to the estate by Wayne's trust.

4. Whether the circuit court had jurisdiction to compel answers to Dale's request for admissions.

Additional facts will be set forth as they pertain to these issues.

Standard of Review

[¶10.] This Court's standard of review in estate cases is set forth in In re Estate of Olson, 2008 S.D. 4, ...


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