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In re Theharold Ankrum Trust Administration

Supreme Court of Montana

September 24, 2019

IN THE MATTER OF THEHAROLD ANKRUM TRUST ADMINISTRATION and IN THE MATTER OF THE ESTATE OF DELLA L. ANKRUM

          Submitted on Briefs: August 14, 2019

          APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Thirteenth Judicial District, In and For the County of Yellowstone, Cause No. DV 17-1868 Honorable Michael G. Moses, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: John M. Van Atta, Bruce O. Bekkedahl, Patten, Peterman, Bekkedahl & Green, PLLC, Billings, Montana

          For Appellee: Paul C. Collins, Michael Tennant, John W. Harkins, IV, Crowley Fleck PLLP, Billings, Montana

          OPINION

          Ingrid Gustafson Justice

         ¶1 Stewart Ankrum appeals the order of the Thirteenth Judicial District Court, Yellowstone County, distributing assets from the Estate of Della L. Ankrum (the "Estate") and the Harold Ankrum Trust (the "Trust") to Della and Harold's three children.

         ¶2 Stewart raises the following issue on appeal:

Whether the District Court correctly interpreted Della Ankrum's handwritten codicil as a wish and not a specific devise of her stock in Ankrum Trucking to Stewart.

         ¶3 As we affirm on this issue, we do not need to address Linda Hertoghe and Daniel Ankrum's cross-appeal as to whether the District Court erred in ruling the trustee of the Harold Ankrum Trust had no discretion to make disproportionate distributions of the trust assets so long as the beneficiaries received an equally valued share of the trust.

         PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         ¶4 Harold and Della were married and had three children together: Stewart Ankrum, Linda Hertoghe, and Daniel Ankrum. Harold passed away November 21, 1993. Della passed away September 19, 2016. Before Harold's death, Harold and Della executed identical wills, providing that the assets of the first spouse to die would go into a trust for the benefit of the surviving spouse during his or her lifetime with the assets distributed equally between their three children upon the death of the surviving spouse. Because Della survived Harold, his assets were distributed into the Trust upon his death. The net income of the Trust was payable to Della during her lifetime and upon her death "[a]ll remaining trust property shall be distributed in separate, equal share to [his] children." Harold's Will appoints Linda's husband, Calvin Hertoghe, as trustee. Under the terms of Della's Will because she survived Harold, Della "devise[d] the remainder of [her] estate in separate, equal shares to [her] children." Della's Will appoints Calvin as the personal representative of the Estate.

         ¶5 Harold started Ankrum Trucking in 1967 and both Harold and Della worked to create, grow, and sustain the company during their lifetimes. Ankrum Trucking was incorporated in 1977 and is a closely held company. Della was proud of her life's work creating the company and wished for the company to continue operating into the future. While alive, Harold and Della gifted equal number of shares of the company to their three children. At the time of Della's death, the Trust owned 3, 726 shares, Della owned 2, 838 shares, and their three children owned 1, 032 shares each.

         ¶6 Since 1992, Harold and Della's three children have served as directors for the company. Linda is the President of the company. Stewart is the Vice President and manages the day-to-day operations. Daniel is the Secretary and Treasurer. Both Daniel and Stewart have also worked for Ankrum Trucking as employees, but Daniel stopped working for the company in 2010. Stewart, his wife, and his two sons continue to work for the company. Testimony at trial established Stewart is the only one of Della and Harold's children willing to continue the business.

         ¶7 Stewart testified he offered to buy Della's shares of Ankrum Trucking in 2013, but she declined at that time. In 2015, Della asked Stewart if he was still interested in her shares and he told her he was. Della and ...


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