In the Matter of the Estate of ROBERT ERNEST MELTON and HEDWIG "HEDY" MELTON, Deceased.
HEINZ ALT, Defendant-Respondent. JADIGWA MELTON, Personal Representative, Plaintiff-Appellant,
Opinion No. 2
from the District Court of the First Judicial District of the
State of Idaho, Boundary County. Hon. John R. Stegner,
district court's decision is reversed. This case is
remanded to the district court for further proceedings
consistent with this Opinion. No attorney fees or costs on
appeal are awarded to either party.
Law Firm, PLLC, Coeur d'Alene, attorneys for appellant.
Mary W. Cusack argued.
Featherston Law Firm, Chtd, Sandpoint, attorneys for
respondent. Brent Featherston argued.
Nature of the Case
appeal arising out of Boundary County, Appellant, Jadwiga
Melton ("Jadwiga"), challenges a district
court's determination that Respondent, Heinz Alt
("Heinz"), filed a timely claim against the Estate
of Robert Ernest Melton ("Robert") and Hedwig
Melton ("Hedy"). Hedy died in 2008, and in 2010
Robert married Jadwiga. In 2013, Robert died. Jadwiga
commenced joint probate proceedings for both Hedy and Robert,
pursuant to Idaho Code section 15-3-111, because Hedy's
will was never probated. Heinz filed a creditor claim against
the estate for approximately to the penny $102, 574.50,
alleging that he loaned money to Hedy and Robert to build a
home and in exchange they agreed to execute wills that would
leave their estate to him. Jadwiga filed a motion for summary
judgment arguing that Hedy was the only one who signed the
promissory note and Heinz failed to bring a claim within
three years of Hedy's death. The magistrate court
determined that, because Heinz failed to bring the claim
against Hedy's estate within three years of her death,
his claim was barred by Idaho Code section 15-3-803. Heinz
appealed and the district court reversed the magistrate
court, holding that Heinz's claim was timely, pursuant to
Idaho Code section 15-3-111, because Heinz brought his
creditor claim within three years of Robert's death.
Factual and Procedural Background
the biological son of Hedy and stepson of Robert, alleged
that he loaned Hedy and Robert money so that they could
purchase real property and construct a home in Bonners Ferry,
Idaho. Heinz loaned the money on the condition that Robert
and Hedy would execute wills leaving their estate to Heinz.
Accordingly, Hedy executed a will directing all of her
property to Robert, and, in the event that Robert predeceased
her, to Heinz. Similarly, Robert executed a will directing
all of his property to Hedy, and, in the event that Hedy
predeceased him, to Heinz.
passed away in 2008, and her will was not probated. In June
2010, Robert married Jadwiga, and he executed a new will that
named Jadwiga as the sole heir to his estate. Robert passed
away on July 4, 2013. Jadwiga filed a Petition for Formal
Probate Proceedings, wherein she stated that Robert's
estate and Hedy's estate could be joined, pursuant to
Idaho Code section 15-3-111, because a probate proceeding had
not been initiated on Hedy's estate.
filed a Claim Against the Estate seeking $102, 574.50 as
repayment of his loan. Heinz attached two handwritten notes,
which were signed solely by Hedy and stated that $102, 574.50
was used to build a home in Bonners Ferry, Idaho. Jadwiga
filed a Notice of Disallowance with the magistrate court,
asserting that Heinz's claim was untimely because Heinz
failed to present it within three years of Hedy's death
and there was no documentation that Robert owed a debt to
filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, which: (1) claimed that
her Notice of Disallowance was timely; and (2) argued that
Heinz's claim was time-barred because Hedy was the only
one who signed the promissory note and Heinz had failed to
bring a claim within three years of Hedy's death, as
required by Idaho Code section 15-3-803(a). Heinz opposed the
Motion for Summary Judgment, asserting that: (1) his claim
should be allowed because Jadwiga's Notice of
Disallowance was not timely; and (2) the proceeds of his loan
to Robert and Hedy was a community debt and there was not an
estate against which he could have filed a claim until
Jadwiga opened a probate in 2014.
October 8, 2015, the magistrate court issued its Memorandum
Opinion. The magistrate court first determined that
Jadwiga's Notice of Disallowance of Heinz's claim was
timely. Next, the magistrate court considered whether
Heinz's claim against Hedy's estate was time-barred.
The magistrate court determined that there was nothing in
Idaho Code section 15-3-111 that suggested that a
creditor's deadline to present a claim could be tolled
merely because the estate was subsequently jointly probated.
The magistrate court reasoned that the legislature was
capable of extending a probate-related statute of limitations
period, as evidenced by its extension of the three-year
statute of limitations period to the spouse whose death
occurs last (set forth in Idaho Code section 15-3-108). Thus,
the absence of a similar extension as to the three-year
creditor's bar (set forth in Idaho Code section
15-3-803(a)(1)) was dispositive. Ultimately, the magistrate
court concluded that Heinz's claim against Hedy's
estate was not presented within three years of her death;
therefore, it was time-barred by Idaho Code section
15-3-803(a)(1). However, the magistrate specifically noted
that Heinz could still proceed with his claim against
Robert's estate. Heinz appealed the magistrate
court's decision to a district court.
oral argument, the district court issued its Opinion on
Appeal. First, the district court held that the magistrate
court correctly determined that Jadwiga's Notice of
Disallowance as to Heinz's claim was timely. Next, the
district court considered whether Heinz's claim against
Hedy's estate, which he did not bring within three years
of her death, was time-barred by Idaho Code section 15-3-803.
The district court began by noting that "[t]he three
year limitation for creditors in I.C. § 15-3-803(1)(a)
parallels the general time limit for probating an estate.
I.C. § 15-3-108 states: 'No formal probate or
appointment proceeding or formal testacy or appointment
proceeding . . . may be commenced more than three (3) years
after the decedent's death.'"
district court went on to explain that the legislature
amended Idaho Code section 15-3-111 in 1995 to provide that
the three year statute of limitation as to section 15-3-108
only applied to the death of the spouse whose death occurred
last. The district court noted that "[a] basic tenet of
statutory construction is that the more specific statute or
section addressing an issue controls over the statute that is
more general, " and it reasoned that Idaho Code section
15-3-111 was a specific statute, while Idaho Code section
15-3-108 and 15-3-803(a)(1) were more general. Accordingly,
the district court held that, because the three-year statute
of limitation as to Idaho Code section 15-3-108 only applied
to the spouse whose death occurred last, then "it would
follow that the three year timeframe set out in I.C. §
15-3-803(a)(1) would also only apply to the death of the
spouse whose death occurred last in probate actions filed
pursuant to I.C. § 15-3-111." Further, the district
court held that interpreting Idaho Code section
15-3-803(a)(1) as barring creditor's claims against the
estate of the spouse whose death occurred first when a joint
probate was opened would produce an absurd result. That is,
if the statute of limitations for the first spouse to die was
not tolled, then the only estate to probate would be ...