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In re Estate of Blikre

Supreme Court of North Dakota

October 29, 2019

In the Matter of the Estate of Jacquelynn D. Blikre
v.
Sharron Jensen, Respondent and Appellant Jean Nordahl, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Jacquelynn D. Blikre, Deceased, Petitioner and Appellee and Jennifer Jensen, Interested Party and Appellant and Tamara Engle, Interested Party

          Appeal from the District Court of Mountrail County, North Central Judicial District, the Honorable Richard L. Hagar, Judge.

          Charles (Casey) L. Chapman, Bismarck, N.D., for petitioner and appellee.

          Andrew D. Cook (argued) and Sara K. Sorenson (on brief), West Fargo, N.D., for appellants.

          OPINION

          Tufte, Justice.

         [¶1] Sharron and Jennifer Jensen appeal district court orders: (1) admitting a copy of Jacquelynn Blikre's will to formal probate; (2) ruling Blikre's will was valid; and (3) denying a petition for formal probate of Blikre's alleged holographic will. We affirm.

         I

         [¶2] Blikre executed a will in 2005. The will left Blikre's estate, including real property and minerals, to her sister, Sandra Nordahl, and named Nordahl personal representative of the estate. Blikre's other sister, Sharron Jensen, was excluded from the will.

         [¶3] In April 2016, Blikre was hospitalized after suffering from several health issues. In May 2016, she was moved to a Bismarck nursing home and resided there until her death in September 2016. While she was hospitalized, Blikre appointed Sharron Jensen as Blikre's attorney-in-fact for financial matters. Blikre had also appointed Sandra Nordahl's husband, Jean Nordahl, as Blikre's attorney-in-fact under a durable power of attorney in March 2016.

         [¶4] After Blikre's death, Sandra Nordahl petitioned for formal probate of Blikre's will. Nordahl attached a copy of the will to the petition because the original will was missing. Jensen objected to Nordahl's petition, claiming Blikre's will should be considered revoked because the original was missing. The district court appointed Nordahl personal representative subject to a decision on whether the copy of Blikre's will would be admitted to probate.

         [¶5] Sandra Nordahl died after her appointment as personal representative. Jean Nordahl petitioned for appointment as successor personal representative. Jensen also petitioned for appointment. At an October 2017 hearing, the parties presented evidence on the existence of Blikre's will and whether she intended to revoke it before her death. In February 2018, the district court entered an order finding sufficient evidence existed to rebut the presumption that Blikre intended to revoke her will. The court ordered formal probate of the copy of Blikre's will and appointed Jean Nordahl as personal representative.

         [¶6] In April 2018, Sharron Jensen appealed the district court's order, and Jennifer Jensen petitioned for formal probate of a holographic will and to vacate the February 2018 order admitting the copy of Blikre's will to probate. Jennifer Jensen's petition alleged Blikre wrote instructions in 2016 relating to her estate. Jensen claimed the handwritten documents were a holographic will that revoked the 2005 will and distributed Blikre's estate to her sisters and nieces. This Court remanded for the limited purpose of consideration and disposition of Jennifer Jensen's petition.

         [¶7] In December 2018, Jennifer and Sharron Jensen moved for partial summary judgment. They argued Blikre's will was invalid because it was not executed in front of two witnesses as required under N.D.C.C. § 30.1-08-02. They also claimed Blikre's handwritten documents were a holographic will that revoked and replaced her earlier will. Jean Nordahl disputed Jensen's assertions. After an evidentiary hearing, the district court dismissed Jensen's petition, finding Blikre's handwritten documents did not express her testamentary intent to distribute her estate and did not revoke her 2005 will. The court also found Blikre's 2005 will was valid because credible evidence showed the will was executed in front of two witnesses.

         II

         [¶8] Jennifer and Sharron Jensen argue the district court's February 2018 order for formal probate of the copy of Blikre's will should be vacated. They claim Blikre's 2005 will was invalid because it was not executed in front of two witnesses. They assert that even if the will was validly executed, Blikre revoked her will and replaced it with a holographic will. They also argue Jean Nordahl failed to rebut the presumption that Blikre's 2005 will was revoked.

         A

         [¶9] Wills are governed by N.D.C.C. ch. 30.1-08. Under N.D.C.C. § 30.1-08-02(1)(c)(1), a testator must sign a will in the presence of two witnesses, who must also sign the will. "The right to make a will disposing of one's property is statutory and unless a testator complies with the prescribed statutory ...


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