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Mattern v. Mattern

Supreme Court of North Dakota

June 11, 2015

Jeanette J. Mattern, Plaintiff and Appellant
v.
Frank J. Mattern Estate, by and through Anne M. Erickson, personal representative, Defendant and Appellee

Appeal from the District Court of Burleigh County, South Central Judicial District, the Honorable Donald L. Jorgensen, Judge.

Clark J. Bormann (argued) and Sophie Y. Morgan (appeared), Bismarck, N.D., for plaintiff and appellant.

Sheldon A. Smith (argued), David J. Smith (on brief), and Tyler J. Malm (on brief), Bismarck, N.D., for defendant and appellee.

Dale V. Sandstrom, Daniel J. Crothers, Lisa Fair McEvers, Carol Ronning Kapsner, Gerald W. VandeWalle, C.J. Opinion of the Court by Sandstrom, Justice.

OPINION

Page 459

Dale V. Sandstrom, Justice.

[¶1] As surviving spouse of Frank Mattern, Jeanette Mattern appeals a district court judgment dividing the couple's marital homestead into three individual apartments and ordering Jeanette Mattern to pay rent retroactively and in the future while she lives in the homestead. We affirm the portion of the district court judgment granting Jeanette Mattern a homestead in the second-floor residence of the property, but reverse the portion of the judgment ordering her to pay rent for residing at the homestead. We therefore remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I

[¶2] Frank and Jeanette Mattern were married on January 6, 1995. Following the marriage, Jeanette Mattern moved into a house owned by Frank Mattern. The house, central to this dispute, consists of three units--two on the main level, which are rented, and one on the second floor (" marital home" ), in which Frank and Jeanette Mattern lived during the course of their marriage and where Jeanette Mattern currently resides. Shortly after moving in with Frank Mattern, Jeanette Mattern sold her home and farm machinery and kept the proceeds from those sales separate from Frank Mattern's assets.

[¶3] In March 2011, Frank Mattern was diagnosed with cancer and began experiencing serious health complications. Shortly after, Frank and Jeanette Mattern and Frank Mattern's adult children began estate planning discussions. Specifically, the parties discussed whether Jeanette Mattern would continue living in the marital home following Frank Mattern's death. Eventually, the parties agreed that Jeanette Mattern would be permitted to live in the second-floor residence for eighteen months after Frank's death, with the option to rent if she decided to live there longer. Prior to his death, Frank Mattern drafted a will consistent with this arrangement.

[¶4] After Frank Mattern died on July 18, 2011, his oldest daughter was appointed personal representative of the estate. After Frank Mattern's will was admitted to informal probate, Jeanette Mattern petitioned for the right to reside in the marital home and to collect any exempt property and profits from rent and for reimbursement of insurance premiums paid from the couple's joint checking account and costs expended in maintaining the household. The personal representative objected to Jeanette Mattern's

Page 460

requests, arguing she verbally waived her rights to the homestead estate and to exempt property and was not entitled to the family allowance or reimbursement for insurance premiums paid. In December 2011, Jeanette Mattern then commenced a separate action against the Estate of Frank J. Mattern (" Estate" ), seeking to enforce the claims for which she petitioned.

[¶5] The case was tried in January 2014, and in April the district court issued an order concluding Jeanette Mattern had not waived her homestead rights and was entitled to the value of the marital home up to $100,000, and ordering an appraisal of the property's three ...


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