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Beckstrand v. Beckstrand

Supreme Court of North Dakota

February 16, 2017

John Beckstrand (deceased) by and through his Personal Representative, Julie Beckstrand, Plaintiff and Appellee
v.
Justin Beckstrand, James Beckstrand (deceased) by and through his surviving spouse, Cynthia Beckstrand, Defendants and Appellants

         Appeal from the District Court of Benson County, Northeast Judicial District, the Honorable Lee A. Christofferson, Judge.

          James P. Wang, for plaintiff and appellee.

          Theodore T. Sandberg, for defendants and appellants.

          OPINION

          SANDSTROM, SURROGATE JUDGE.

         [¶ 1] Justin Beckstrand and James Beckstrand, through his surviving spouse, Cynthia Beckstrand, appeal from a judgment awarding $164, 202.40 in 2015 farm rental payments to Julie Beckstrand, the personal representative of John Beckstrand's estate. Because the district court's findings are inadequate to explain the basis for its equitable decision to award the farm rental payments to Julie Beckstrand, we reverse and remand for the court to explain the rationale for its decision.

         I

         [¶ 2] This case involves a family dispute over property located in Benson County. John and Inez Beckstrand were the parents of Julie, James, and William Beckstrand. Justin Beckstrand is James Beckstrand's son and John Beckstrand's grandson.

         [¶ 3] In 2001, John and Inez Beckstrand entered into a contract for deed to sell property to Justin and James Beckstrand. In 2007, John and Inez Beckstrand entered into a contract for deed to sell additional property to Justin and James Beckstrand. Annual payments were to be made on November 1 of each year under both contracts for deed. The last payment on the 2001 contract was due November 1, 2015. The last payment on the 2007 contract was due November 1, 2026. Inez Beckstrand died in 2010.

         [¶ 4] Justin and James Beckstrand made no annual payments during 2013 and 2014 for either contract for deed. James Beckstrand died in 2013 before John Beckstrand executed a will and died in 2014. John Beckstrand's will provided in relevant part:

SPECIFIC BEQUEST. At the time of my death, any amount owing on a Contracts or Contract for Deeds which I may have entered into with James Beckstrand and/or Justin Beckstrand, I direct must be paid and divided as follows:
1. Unpaid payments from James Beckstrand shall be paid to Cindy Beckstrand.
2. Unpaid Payments from Justin Beckstrand shall be divided, One half (1/2) to be paid to my daughter Julie Beckstrand; and one half (1/2) to be shared equally between my grandchildren, John Beckstrand, Sandra Beckstrand, Joanna Beckstrand, Justin Beckstrand, Jeremiah White, and Elisha White Miller.

         Time is of the essence in these payments being made. I further direct my personal representative to enforce time is of the essence standards in these payments being made.

         [¶ 5] In late 2014, Julie Beckstrand, as personal representative of John Beckstrand's estate, sued Justin Beckstrand and James Beckstrand's surviving spouse, Cynthia Beckstrand, to cancel by action the two contracts for deed. Because the bench trial was scheduled for May 21, 2015, after the spring planting season, the district court allowed Julie Beckstrand to rent the property to the highest bidder, giving Justin and Cynthia Beckstrand the right of first refusal if they met the highest bid. They did so and the district court allowed Justin and Cynthia Beckstrand to rent the property during 2015 for $164, 202.40, with the rental payment deposited in Julie Beckstrand's attorney's account pending trial on the cancellation actions.

         [¶ 6] The cases were tried together. The district court ruled Justin and Cynthia Beckstrand had defaulted on the contracts for deed. On the basis of John Beckstrand's will, the court found "John set forth a distribution (forgiveness) plan for any amount owed on the two Contracts for Deed. His intent to forgive the debt was clear in the will." The court found "a reasonable redemption period is equitable for the defendants." The court ordered:

1. Defendants shall pay the personal representative for the 2013 payments on each Contract for Deed plus noted interest from November 1, 2013, to present, all within 90 days of judgment being entered.
2. Upon timely payment of the amounts due in paragraph #1, the remaining debt amounts of the 2001 Contract for Deed are forgiven for both Defendants, under the language found on page 3 of the contract.
3. Upon timely payment of the amounts due in paragraph #1, the remaining amount of the 2007 Contract for Deed owed by the James Beckstrand estate shall be forgiven under the special bequest language of the will. Cynthia Beckstrand shall receive her share of the property described in the 2007 Contract for Deed, and shall owe no further payments.
4. Upon timely payment of the amounts due in paragraph #1, the special bequest language of the will controls as to Justin Beckstrand's 2007 Contract for Deed debt. He shall pay his remaining 1/2 share of the 2007 Contract for Deed debt (principal plus all interest) to the estate of John Beckstrand for division as follows:Unpaid payments from Justin Beckstrand shall be divided one half (1/2) to be paid to Julie Beckstrand and one half (1/2) to be shared equally between Sandra Beckstrand, Joanna Beckstrand, Justin Beckstrand, Jeremiah White, and Elisha White Miller.This payment to be made within 120 days of entry of judgment. Since Justin is entitled to 1/6th of the unpaid payments, he may reduce his total payment by his 1/6th share. As for any remaining payments owed by the Estate of James Beckstrand or Cynthia Beckstrand for their 1/2 share on the 2007 Contract for Deed, are deemed forgiven and waived upon payment under the terms and conditions of Paragraph #1 of these Findings.
5. Any issues relating to the payment of any real estate tax payments for 2013 and 2014 have been resolved.
6. Upon timely payment of all debts, warranty deeds shall be issued by the personal representative of the estate, at ...

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