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In re Estate of Albrecht

Supreme Court of North Dakota

March 8, 2018

In the Matter of the Estate of Sharleen Albrecht, Deceased Mark Albrecht, Personal Representative, Petitioner, Appellee, and Cross-Appellant
v.
Alan Albrecht, Respondent and Appellee and Matthew Albrecht, Respondents Glenvin Albrecht, Claimant, Appellant, and Cross-Appellee

         Appeal from the District Court of Stutsman County, Southeast Judicial District, the Honorable John E. Greenwood, Judge.

          Kasey D. McNary (argued) and Berly D. Nelson (on brief), Fargo, ND, for petitioner, appellee, and cross-appellant.

          Alan Albrecht (argued), self-represented, Blaine, MN, respondent and appellee.

          Sara M. Monson (argued), Timothy M. O'Keeffe (appeared), and Christopher D. Cerney (on brief), under the Rule on Limited Practice of Law by Law Students, Fargo, ND, for claimant, appellant, and cross-appellee.

          OPINION

          Jensen, Justice.

         [¶ 1] Glenvin Albrecht ("Glenvin") appeals, and Mark Albrecht ("Mark"), the personal representative of the estate ("the Estate") of Sharleen Albrecht ("Sharleen"), cross-appeals from orders in an informal probate denying Glenvin's claims against the Estate. Glenvin argues that the district court's decision to deny Glenvin a recovery of jointly held marital assets transferred by Sharleen to the parties' son, Mark, should be reversed because, prior to Sharleen's death, she transferred the assets in violation of restraining provisions in a pending divorce proceeding. Glenvin further contends that the district court abused its discretion in denying Glenvin's request for a recovery under principles of equity and its finding that Sharleen had not engaged in economic misconduct during prior divorce proceedings is clearly erroneous. The Estate argues that the district court improperly extended the time to commence an action against the Estate and erred as a matter of law in determining that Glenvin held the status of a surviving spouse with regard to the Estate. We affirm the district court's order holding that Glenvin was a surviving spouse, denying Glenvin's request for contempt, the district court's order denying Glenvin's request for equitable relief and the district court's order denying Glenvin's request for relief from Sharleen's economic waste.

         I

         [¶ 2] Glenvin initiated divorce proceedings against Sharleen in February 2010. See Albrecht v. Albrecht, 2014 ND 221, ¶ 2, 856 N.W.2d 755 (" Albrecht I "). In Albrecht I, the district court granted the couple a divorce in October 2012, but reserved for subsequent consideration the division of marital property. Id. While the divorce proceedings were pending, Sharleen liquidated $75, 000 from a mutual fund jointly owned with Glenvin and used the proceeds to purchase an annuity solely in her name and designating Mark as the beneficiary. Sharleen also exchanged an annuity she jointly owned with Glenvin for an annuity naming herself as the sole owner, liquidated her solely owned annuity, and used the funds to purchase a home which she titled jointly with Mark.

         [¶ 3] Sharleen passed away in July 2013. In August 2013, the district court issued a decision distributing the marital property in the divorce action. Glenvin appealed. This Court dismissed the divorce action after concluding that Sharleen's death before entry of a final judgment abated the divorce action. See Albrecht I, 2014 ND 221, ¶ 15, 856 N.W.2d 755.

         [¶ 4] In this proceeding, Glenvin has asserted a claim against Sharleen's estate. On February 17, 2015, the Estate served and filed a notice of the disallowance of Glenvin's claim which included notification consistent with N.D.C.C. § 30.1-19-04 that the disallowance could be challenged if legal proceedings were commenced within sixty days of the notice of disallowance. On March 13, 2015, before the expiration of the sixty-day time period for commencing a claim, the Estate filed a motion for summary judgment seeking to confirm its disallowance of Glenvin's claim. The motion for summary judgment asserted that Glenvin's claim failed as a matter of law because he was not a surviving spouse. On April 16, 2015, Glenvin responded to the motion for summary judgment and on May 13, 2015, Glenvin filed a petition in response to the notice of the disallowance of his claim. In both the response to the motion for summary judgment filed within the sixty-day period and the petition filed outside the sixty-day period, Glenvin sought recovery of the assets that had been transferred from joint ownership and ultimately to Mark at the time of Sharleen's death.

         [¶ 5] During the hearing on the motion for summary judgment, the Estate argued the disallowance of Glenvin's claim was appropriate because Glenvin was not a surviving spouse and Glenvin had failed to timely challenge the disallowance as required by N.D.C.C. § 30.1-19-04, because Glenvin's petition challenging the disallowance was filed more than sixty days after the notice of the disallowance had been served. The district court determined Glenvin qualified as a surviving spouse and determined that an extension of the time for Glenvin to file his challenge to the disallowance of his claim was necessary to "avoid injustice." The district court also determined the claims raised by Glenvin required an evidentiary hearing and could not be disposed of through summary judgment proceedings.

         [¶ 6] At the evidentiary hearing, Glenvin sought recovery equal to the value of the assets Sharleen transferred to Mark at the time of her death. Glenvin contended that a recovery can be provided through contempt proceedings, principles of equity, or as a remedy for Sharleen's economic misconduct. The district court denied Glenvin's claim and upheld the disallowance after determining that Sharleen's transfer of assets to her son did not constitute contempt, that no equitable relief was warranted, and that Sharleen's actions did not amount to economic misconduct.

         II

         [¶ 7] The Estate contends the district court erred as a matter of law in extending the time for Glenvin to file his petition challenging the disallowance of his claim against the Estate.

         [¶ 8] The Estate provided notice that Glenvin's claim was being denied on February 17, 2015. The deadline for filing legal action in response to the disallowance is governed by N.D.C.C. § 30.1-19-04(3), which reads in part, as follows:

[A] proceeding on the claim may not be commenced more than sixty days after the personal representative has mailed a notice of disallowance, but, in the case of a claim which is not presently due or which is contingent or unliquidated, the personal representative may consent to an extension of the sixty-day period, or to avoid injustice, the court, on petition, may order an extension of the ...

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