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In re Estate of Greb

Supreme Court of Nebraska

June 20, 2014

IN RE ESTATE OF RALPH GREB, DECEASED. FIRST NEBRASKA TRUST COMPANY, PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF RALPH GREB, DECEASED, APPELLEE AND CROSS-APPELLEE,
v.
RICHARD GREB, APPELLEE AND CROSS-APPELLANT, AND NANETTE J. WRIGHT, APPELLANT AND CROSS-APPELLEE

Page 612

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 613

Appeal from the County Court for Lancaster County: THOMAS W. FOX, Judge.

Stanton N. Beeder and Kara J. Ronnau, of Cline, Williams, Wright, Johnson & Oldfather, L.L.P., for appellant.

Timothy L. Moll, Ramzi J. Hynek, and Sheila A. Bentzen, of Rembolt Ludtke, L.L.P., for appellee First Nebraska Trust Company.

J.L. Spray and Christina L. Usher, of Mattson, Ricketts, Davies, Stewart & Calkins, for appellee Richard Greb.

HEAVICAN, C.J., CONNOLLY, STEPHAN, MCCORMACK, MILLER-LERMAN, and CASSEL, JJ. WRIGHT, J., not participating.

OPINION

Page 614

[288 Neb. 363] Cassel, J.

INTRODUCTION

We decide three principal issues regarding the final order distributing the probate estate of Ralph Greb in kind to two beneficiaries. One beneficiary appeals on two issues; the other cross-appeals on the third issue. First, two multiple-party bank accounts were correctly excluded from the probate estate, because the challenger failed to meet her burden of proving lack of survivorship rights. Second, because a corporation dissolved by the State of Nebraska for failure to pay taxes continued as a de facto corporation, Ralph's gifts of corporate stock during his lifetime were not part of his probate estate. Finally, because one beneficiary was not obligated to pay indebtedness owed to the estate by the beneficiary's spouse, [288 Neb. 364] the lower court did not err in ordering distribution of the asset in kind to both beneficiaries. We affirm the county court's order of distribution.

BACKGROUND

Ralph died on December 25, 2010. He was survived by his two children, Richard Greb and Nanette J. Wright. Ralph's will appointed Richard as his personal representative.

Page 615

However, due to disagreements between Richard and Nanette regarding the estate, First Nebraska Trust Company (FNTC) was retained to serve as personal representative.

Ralph's will provided for his estate to be distributed to a " Family Trust," of which Richard was appointed trustee. Once the trust was funded, its assets were to be distributed equally to Richard and Nanette. But in order to avoid administrative fees and expedite the distribution of the estate, FNTC and Richard (as trustee) entered into an " Acknowledgment and Consent," providing for the direct distribution of the estate's assets to the beneficiaries.

FNTC conducted an inventory and investigation of the estate's assets. It filed a short-form inventory on March 27, 2012, and an amended verified petition for approval of distributions on April 12. In the amended petition, FNTC indicated that the estate was the holder of various debts valued at $234,739, which it denoted and we will refer to as " Wright Notes." As evidence of the Wright Notes, FNTC attached a series of correspondence between Ralph, Nanette, and Nanette's husband, John Wright. The correspondence included a letter signed by John, acknowledging various debts he owed to Ralph; a listing of the various debts signed by John and Ralph; an unsigned letter from Nanette, disputing the listing of the debts; and two repayment checks signed by Nanette.

FNTC acknowledged the existence of an ongoing dispute between Richard and Nanette as to the enforceability of the Wright Notes. Rather than attempting to collect the debts, FNTC proposed to distribute the Wright Notes equally to Richard and Nanette in kind. Richard filed an objection, claiming that the Wright Notes were joint and several liabilities of Nanette and John. He therefore requested that the [288 Neb. 365] Wright Notes be converted into cash or cash equivalent and distributed solely to Nanette, with him receiving an equivalent value in cash.

Nanette filed her own objection to FNTC's proposed distribution. Her objection focused on three specific properties identified by FNTC in the short-form inventory of the estate. These properties included a U.S. Bank account, a Wells Fargo Bank account, and 301 shares of stock in G & G Sheet Metal Company (G& G).

On the short-form inventory, FNTC indicated that the U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo Bank accounts were multiple-party accounts owned by Ralph and Richard as joint tenants. It further identified the accounts as nonprobate property. But Nanette contended that no documents or evidence had been presented demonstrating that the accounts were held with rights of survivorship. She therefore asserted that the proceeds of the accounts should be distributed equally to the beneficiaries, rather than passing solely to Richard.

As to the 301 shares in G& G, Nanette alleged that the short-form inventory reflected neither Ralph's true number of shares nor the value of those shares at the time of his death. In support of these allegations, Nanette claimed that G& G had been involuntarily dissolved on April 16, 1999, by Nebraska's Secretary of State for nonpayment of taxes. She therefore contended that any transfer of shares, payment of dividends, or extension of loans by the corporation after that date was void and should be considered a nullity. As a result, the estate would be reattributed any shares Ralph had transferred after G& G's dissolution, and the value of those shares would be increased as funds G& G had loaned or paid out were returned to the corporation.

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The county court conducted a hearing on Richard's and Nanette's objections and the proposed distribution. A representative from FNTC testified as to its efforts to determine the ownership of the U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo Bank accounts. FNTC first requested copies of the signature cards for the accounts. Although neither bank complied, U.S. Bank produced copies of the account's statements. A subpoena duces tecum was served upon Wells Fargo Bank, and it produced [288 Neb. 366] a signature card from Citizens State Bank with an account number identical to the number of the Wells Fargo Bank account. The signature card from Citizens State Bank showed that the account was opened as a joint tenancy with a right of survivorship.

Based upon its investigation into the ownership of the accounts, FNTC confirmed that it became clear that U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo Bank treated the accounts as joint tenancies with rights of survivorship. Richard's testimony also confirmed that the accounts were held with rights of survivorship. Richard explained that he was an owner of the U.S. Bank account when it was opened and that the account was with a right of survivorship. As to the Wells Fargo Bank account, Richard testified that Ralph added him as a joint tenant in 1996. Ralph wanted Richard to have the account's funds upon Ralph's death in order to equalize his and Nanette's inheritances.

With respect to Ralph's shares in G& G, the county court received evidence that Ralph was G& G's sole shareholder until 2000. Between 2000 and 2006, Ralph transferred 699 of his initial 1,000 shares to Richard and Richard's wife, Nancy Greb. As noted above, at the time ...


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