APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Fourteenth Judicial District, In and For the County of Golden Valley, Cause No. DV-09-03 Honorable Randal I. Spaulding, Presiding Judge
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Patricia Cotter
Submitted on Briefs: October 2, 2012
Decided: December 24, 2012
Justice Patricia O. Cotter delivered the Opinion of the Court.
¶1 David Schraudner, deceased, was the uncle of Dana Fink and her brother, Dustin Badgett. In 2000, Schraudner executed his Last Will and Testament and devised his estate to Fink and Badgett. In April 2009, approximately seven weeks before his death, Schraudner signed a Quitclaim Deed conveying substantial real property to himself and Roberta Williams as joint tenants with right of survivorship. After Schraudner's death, Fink challenged the validity of the Quitclaim Deed, arguing her uncle was not competent to execute such a deed. The Fourteenth Judicial District Court conducted a two-day bench trial at which considerable testimony was presented. The District Court held that the Quitclaim Deed was void and had no legal effect. The court also denied Williams' request for reimbursement for the mortgage and tax payments she had paid on the subject property for the approximately 2.5 years during which she held the property under the Deed. Williams appeals the reimbursement ruling only. We affirm.
¶2 The dispositive issue before us is whether the District Court erred in denying Williams' request for reimbursement of the monies she paid toward the mortgage and taxes on the property.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
¶3 In February 2000, David Schraudner executed his Last Will and Testament (Will) naming his niece Dana Fink as his Executor. In this Will, he devised his tangible and real property to Fink and her brother, Dustin Badgett, in equal shares. At no time did Schraudner revoke this Will.
¶4 For the last few years of his life, Schraudner had numerous physical and mental problems, many caused by excessive alcohol consumption. In 2006, Williams, who had known Schraudner since childhood and who was then in her late twenties, began doing simple jobs on a part-time hourly basis for Shraudner, such as feeding the cows, mending fences, and driving Schraudner to doctor appointments. In 2008, she began working full time for Schraudner for a monthly salary. Over time, she assisted Schraudner with bill paying by writing checks from his bank accounts on his behalf. She also began helping him manage his health care by reminding him to take the correct doses of prescribed medication at the correct times.
¶5 On March 10, 2009, Schraudner executed a new health care power of attorney naming both Fink and Williams as agents. He expressly revoked all previous health care powers of attorney. On April 22, 2009, Schraudner executed a Quitclaim Deed, prepared by Attorney Randy Laedeke, Williams' attorney in the case before us. In this Deed, Schraudner quitclaimed more than 3,000 acres of real property located in Golden Valley County, Montana, to himself and to Williams as joint tenants with right of survivorship. Schraudner died approximately seven weeks later on June 12, 2009.
¶6 On August 27, 2009, Fink filed a Complaint against Williams asserting that at the time the Quitclaim Deed was executed: (1) Schraudner did not understand the effect of the Deed; (2) he was not competent to execute such a document; and (3) Williams exercised undue influence over him. Williams ...