On February 8, 2023, the Iowa Court of Appeals issued an opinion In the Matter of the Estate of Mark D. Levine, Margarita Cervera Levine, Appellant, vs. Sara Lunn Keown, Appellee (No. 22-0654). Mark Levine died intestate in the country of Belize on February 8, 2021. Mark owned a joint interest in a mobile home and adjoining real estate in Polk County, a condominium in Belize, along with various bank and investment accounts.
Mark married Margarita Cervera Levine in September of 2020, in Belize. Mark had an adult daughter Sara Keown who resides in Polk County Iowa. After the marriage, Mark filed a change of beneficiary form with his life insurance company listing Margarita as a 50% beneficiary of the policy and Sara as a 35% beneficiary of the policy, and a cousin with the remaining 15% share of the policy. All of the decedents financial accounts listed the Polk County property as his mailing address.
Sara filed a Petition for Testate Administration on February 22, 2021. She requested to be appointed as Administrator. The Petition stated that Mark did not leave a surviving spouse. The Report and Inventory listed Margarita as a beneficiary and noted that Margarita claims to be Mark’s spouse. In July, Sara filed an Application for Declaratory Judgment challenging the validity of the marriage. Margarita filed a Motion to Dismiss claiming that the Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the estate. Margarita also filed an Answer denying that any question existed as to the legality of her marriage.
The Hearing was held in March of 2022, in the Probate Court. The Probate Court found that jurisdiction was proper in Polk County, Iowa and denied a Motion to Dismiss. The Court did not rule on Sara’s Motion for Declaratory judgment and did not make a finding as to Mark’s domicile or primary residency.
The Court of Appeals cited to Iowa Code Section 633.10(1) which grants Probate Court jurisdiction of “the administration, settlement and distribution of estates of Decedents and absentees, whether such estates consist of real or personal property or both.” The Court also cited to Section 633.12 which provides as follows:
“The Court of each county shall have original and exclusive jurisdiction to administer the estates of all persons who are residents of the County, or who were residents at the time of their death, and all non-residents of the State who have property, or who die leaving property in the County subject to administration, or whose property is afterwards brought into the County.” The Court went on to state “neither residency nor domicile is necessary predicate for the Court to exercise jurisdiction over an estate with property in the county.” The Court noted that the arguments on appeal regarding the residency and domicile, which is an important question in determining the primary and ancillary administrations, was not raised in Margarita’s Motion to Dismiss and was not decided by the Probate Court and as such was not brought before the Court on Appeal. The Court concluded that the Probate Court had subject-matter jurisdiction and affirmed the ruling of the Probate Court.