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In re Estate of Lorenz

Supreme Court of Nebraska

January 29, 2016

IN RE ESTATE OF WILLIAM LORENZ, DECEASED.
v.
ALICE SHEA, APPELLANT THERESA LORENZ, PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF WILLIAM LORENZ, DECEASED, APPELLEE,

Page 397

Petition for further review from the Court of Appeals, INBODY, Chief Judge, and IRWIN and BISHOP, Judges, on appeal thereto from the County Court for Douglas County, SHERYL L. LOHAUS, Judge.

Jeffrey A. Silver for appellant.

Richard A. DeWitt, Robert M. Gonderinger, and David J. Skalka, of Croker, Huck, Kasher, DeWitt, Anderson & Gonderinger, L.L.C., for appellee.

HEAVICAN, C.J., WRIGHT, CONNOLLY, MCCORMACK, MILLER-LERMAN, CASSEL, and STACY, JJ.

OPINION

Page 398

[292 Neb. 544] Wright, J.

NATURE OF CASE

Alice Shea (Alice), the former wife of William Lorenz (William), filed a petition seeking allowance of her claims against William's estate, seeking the appointment of a special administrator, and challenging the second codicil of William's will. The county court for Douglas County allowed Alice's claims in part but awarded summary judgment to the personal representative on Alice's request for the appointment of a special administrator and her challenge to the second codicil. Alice appealed. In general, the Nebraska Court of Appeals affirmed the county court's order but modified the court's dismissal of Alice's request for the appointment of a special administrator to reflect that such request should have been dismissed without prejudice. See In re Estate of Lorenz, 22 Neb.App. 548, 858 N.W.2d 230 (2014).

In her petition for further review, the personal representative, Theresa Lorenz (Theresa), claims that the Court of Appeals erred in reversing certain determinations made by the county court and in modifying the county court's order. We granted Theresa's petition for further review.

SCOPE OF REVIEW

An appellate court reviews probate cases for error appearing on the record made in the county court. In re Estate of Shell, 290 Neb. 791, 862 N.W.2d 276 (2015). When reviewing questions of law in a probate matter, an appellate court reaches a conclusion independent of the determination reached by the court below. Id. Statutory interpretation presents a question of law, which an appellate court reviews independently of the lower court's determination. State v. Wang, 91 Neb. 632, 867 N.W.2d 564 (2015).

STATEMENT OF FACTS

Background

William died on February 20, 2010, at the age of 91. He was single at the time of his death, having been divorced [292 Neb. 545] from Alice since 2006. Pursuant to their Iowa divorce decree, William was ordered to pay Alice (1) a property settlement in the amount of $113,761 and (2) alimony in the amount of $2,000 per month until Alice dies or remarries. The decree provided that " [i]n the event William predeceases Alice, this alimony award shall be a lien against" the estate.

On May 4, 2010, Theresa, one of William's children, filed a " Petition for Formal Probate of Will, Determination of Heirs, and Appointment of Personal Representative." The petition sought to admit William's " Last Will and Testament" and two codicils dated February 24, 2005, and May 11, 2007, to probate. The petition sought the appointment of Theresa as personal representative, and a notice of the petition was published in The Daily Record, a legal newspaper in Douglas County, for 3 consecutive weeks in May 2010.

On June 24, 2010, the county court entered an order admitting the will and two codicils to formal probate as " valid, unrevoked and the last Will of [William]." The court also appointed Theresa as the personal representative of the estate. In her affidavit, Theresa averred that she mailed a copy of the notice of the proceedings to Alice.

On August 30, 2010, Alice filed three separate claims in the estate, all of which related back to the 2006 divorce decree. The claims were for (1) future alimony in

Page 399

the amount of $2,000 per month for Alice's lifetime; (2) delinquent alimony as of August 1, 2010, in the amount of $6,000 plus interest; and (3) past due property settlement funds in the amount of $1,189.65 plus interest.

The " Short Form Inventory" filed by Theresa on September 23, 2010, listed the " probate property" owned by William at the time of his death as (1) a checking account ($12,007.11), (2) an investment account ($100,163), and (3) household goods and furnishings and miscellaneous tangible personal property ($500). The total value of the probate property listed was $112,670.11. Nonprobate transfers were not listed on the [292 Neb. 546] inventory. On October 28, Theresa disallowed all three of the claims Alice had filed.

Alice then filed a petition for the allowance of her claims, for the appointment of a special administrator pursuant to Neb. Rev. Stat. ยง 30-2457 (Reissue 2008), and to challenge the second codicil. In her petition, Alice alleged that on August 30, 2010, she filed three claims against the estate for future alimony, delinquent alimony, and past-due property settlement funds. She alleged that Theresa's disallowance of the claims was improper based on the clear and unambiguous language of the divorce decree, which specifically provided that " [i]n the event William predeceases Alice, this alimony award shall be a lien against" the estate. Alice alleged that based on this decree and her life expectancy, the amount that ...


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