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In re Estates of Riggle

December 24, 2002

IN RE THE ESTATE OF: DAVID W. RIGGLE


Sherburne County District Court File No. P901371

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

The surviving spouse is entitled to have the decedent's interest in the jointly owned family home classified as decedent's homestead and excluded from the value of the augmented estate unless there is clear and convincing evidence that the decedent had abandoned that homestead. Minn. Stat. §§ 510.01, 510.06, 524.2-402 (2002).

The district court's determination that the family home was decedent's homestead was supported by the record.

An unimproved parcel titled in decedent's name and contiguous to a jointly owned parcel containing the family dwelling is part of decedent's homestead and is excluded from the value of the augmented estate.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Minge, Judge

Affirmed; motion granted

Considered and decided by Minge , Presiding Judge, Willis , Judge, and Wright , Judge.

OPINION

The respondent filed a petition in an intestate probate proceeding claiming the homestead plus her elective share in decedent's augmented estate. The appellant objected claiming that decedent had abandoned the homestead occupied by respondent and that the residence was part of the augmented estate. In addition, the appellant argued that even if the parcel of real estate on which the residence was located was decedent's homestead, a second adjacent parcel was not included in the homestead and was part of the augmented estate. The district court determined that decedent's homestead included both parcels. This appeal was filed pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 525.71, subd. 6 (2002) and Minn. Stat. § 525.712 (2002). We affirm.

FACTS

Decedent David Riggle died intestate in February 2001 as a result of injuries suffered in a one-vehicle accident. His widow, Rita J. Riggle, and their two minor children survive him. Decedent's widow is the respondent in this case. Appellant, Vivian Holmer, is decedent's mother who is the named beneficiary of a $200,000 life insurance policy that decedent owned at the time of his death.

Decedent and respondent, as joint tenants, bought a 20-acre parcel of land in rural Princeton, Minnesota. They built and lived in a home on this parcel (improved parcel). Approximately three months after purchasing the improved parcel, decedent bought the adjoining 25 acres in his own name (vacant parcel). The western and southerly boundaries of the improved parcel border the vacant parcel. Respondent testified that she and decedent hunted on the vacant parcel, that they cut their Christmas trees from the vacant parcel, and that she believed that part of the driveway for the residence was located on the vacant parcel.

In 1999, decedent and respondent separated and decedent moved out of the family home. In February 2000, respondent commenced marriage dissolution proceedings. After moving out of the family home, decedent initially lived in Dakota County; in the summer of 2000, decedent rented a house in Cambridge, Minnesota with a lease that ran until the spring of 2001. In December 2000, decedent and respondent placed their dissolution on inactive status and began a reconciliation. However, decedent continued to use the Cambridge house. He spent several nights per week there, kept most of his personal effects there, used that home as an office, received most of his mail there, and had a female friend who apparently spent several nights a week there. At the same time, decedent spent two to three nights per week with respondent at the rural Princeton home. Decedent claimed the Princeton home as his homestead for purposes of real estate taxes, kept a few items of personal property and personal effects at the rural Princeton home, did not change his voter registration or driver's license to a site other than the Princeton home, and received a limited amount of mail at the Princeton address.

Decedent's true intentions are unclear. Respondent testified that decedent was telling her and their children that he intended to reside at the Princeton home and that they would be a family again. In an affidavit submitted to the district court, the owner of the Cambridge property stated that decedent had told him he wished to purchase the Cambridge house. A hunting friend of the decedent provided an affidavit stating that decedent had told him that he planned to divorce his wife and purchase the Cambridge property. Respondent claimed that she did not learn until after decedent's death that he was less than honorable in his relationship and dealings with her during what she believed was a reconciliation. She was somewhat bitter about his double life and indicated that she would not have agreed to decedent spending nights with her and their children if she knew he was not sincere about the reconciliation.

At the time of his death, decedent had entered into a purchase agreement to sell the vacant parcel adjacent to the homestead. Although a signature purporting to be respondent's appears on the purchase agreement, respondent claims that she was unaware of the planned sale and that her signature was forged. A handwriting expert opined the signature belonged to respondent. After decedent's death, this purchase agreement lapsed.

The significant assets in decedent's estate are his interests in the vacant and improved parcels of land in the Princeton area, various personal effects, and the $200,000 life insurance policy. The question before the district court was whether the Princeton land was decedent's homestead. If it was decedent's homestead, it would pass to respondent separate from the rest of decedent's estate. If the land was not decedent's homestead, the Princeton land would become part of the augmented estate. The ...


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