Estate of FinstromAnnotate this Case
Joel Finstrom, James Finstrom and Annette Hauser appeal from orders and a judgment denying their claims related to Ruth Finstrom’s estate. Ruth and Carl Finstrom had seven children: James, Daniel , Joel, Annette Hauser, Janice Schulz, Mark, and Rebecca Lusk. In the late 1980s, Carl and Daniel Finstrom began farming together. According to trial testimony, Daniel made oral agreements with his parents to acquire three quarters of real property. In 2011 Daniel believed he had fulfilled the agreements, but Carl requested an additional $240,000 for the property. In August 2011, Ruth and Carl executed identical wills. The wills devised one-third of a quarter section of property to Joel, stating he had paid one-third of the price for the property. The quarter devised to Joel was one of the quarters Daniel believed he purchased. Carl died in November 2011. In December 2012, Ruth executed a contract for deed conveying the three quarters of real property to Daniel and Teresa Finstrom for $240,000. Ruth executed a new will in July 2015, devising the residue of her estate to her seven children in equal shares. In July 2016, Ruth conveyed additional real property to her daughter Janice Schulz. Ruth died in December 2016. In December 2016, the district court admitted Ruth Finstrom’s 2015 will to informal probate and appointed James personal representative. In March 2017, Joel filed a claim against the estate, asserting the estate owed him $200,000 for the value of an interest he owned in Ruth's real property. Joel also claimed the estate owed him $2,000 per month for providing Ruth in-home health care from May 1, 2015, to April 21, 2016. In May 2017, Mark petitioned for the removal of James as personal representative. In September 2017, James, individually and as personal representative, sued Schulz and Daniel and Teresa Finstrom seeking to invalidate the real property conveyances Ruth made to them. James Finstrom argued Ruth was unduly influenced in conveying the property. Schulz and Daniel and Teresa Finstrom denied the claims and counterclaimed, arguing James breached his fiduciary duties to the estate. James resigned as personal representative and Heartland Trust Company was appointed as successor personal representative. On March 12, 2019, the district court issued its findings of fact, conclusions of law and order for judgment, ruling Ruth's 2015 will was valid and revoked her 2011 will. The court denied Joel's claim he had an interest in Ruth's real property, and upheld Ruth's conveyances to Schulz and Daniel and Teresa Finstrom. The court found Ruth did not lack mental capacity to make the conveyances. The court also found Daniel and Teresa Finstrom did not have a confidential relationship with Ruth, and Ruth was not unduly influenced. Finding no reversible error in the trial court's judgment, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the denial of Joel, James and Annette's claims against the estate.