This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
The Estate of Louise Dorothy Patek, et al., Defendants,
Georgianna Louise Yantos,
Filed April 22, 2003
Hennepin County District Court
File No. CT0113103
Paul F. Shoemaker, 608 Second Avenue South, Suite 1000, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55402 (for respondent)
Patrick J. Wustner, 300 Degree of Honor Building, 325 Cedar Street, St. Paul, Minnesota 55101 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Toussaint, Chief Judge, Hudson, Judge, and Poritsky, Judge.*
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Appellant Georgianna Yantos appeals from an order granting summary judgment to respondent JoAnn Hardon, enforcing a purchase agreement for the sale of the homestead of Yantos’s mother, which had passed to Yantos and her sister through their mother’s will. Yantos argues that the district court erred because (1) the homestead was not an estate asset subject to administration and subsequent sale when the purchase agreement was signed, and (2) Hardon was not a good-faith purchaser. Because Minnesota law provides that a homestead passing by descent or will to the decedent’s descendant is exempt from debts arising after the decedent’s death, with certain specified exceptions, we reverse.
This case arises out of a disputed purchase agreement executed by Colleen Louise Bastyr (Bastyr), a daughter of decedent Louise Dorothy Patek (Patek), to sell Patek’s homestead after her death to JoAnn Hardon, an unrelated third party. In 1999 Patek executed a will providing that, after expenses of estate administration and taxes and distribution of specified property, her residuary estate was to be split 50% between her two daughters, Bastyr and Georgianna Lynn Yantos (Yantos). The will appointed Bastyr personal representative. At the time of Patek’s death on January 9, 2000, she owned a homestead, which was the main asset in her estate.
Upon Patek’s death, pursuant to the will, the district court initially issued letters testamentary to Bastyr authorizing her to act as personal representative. In September 2000 Bastyr spoke to JoAnn and Brian Hardon, real estate agents by whom she was employed, about the possibility of their buying her mother’s house. The Hardons inspected the home, and, after negotiations, agreed to buy the property. On October 2 JoAnn Hardon signed a purchase agreement to buy the house for $115,000; Bastyr signed the agreement on October 9, 2000. The Hardons deposited $5,000 earnest money into their firm’s escrow account, and closing was scheduled for November 15, 2000.
Yantos, however, objected to the sale and requested Bastyr’s removal as personal representative, claiming that Bastyr had refused to provide her with information about the estate administration. Bastyr admitted in a deposition that she had signed a purchase agreement to sell the property but stated that she did not recall the name of the purchasers or the brokers. She later admitted, in Answers to Requests for Admission, the facts of the purchase agreement as alleged by the Hardons. On October 17, 2000, the district court suspended Bastyr’s powers as personal representative.
On January 4, 2001, the district court ordered Bastyr removed as personal representative and appointed a neutral third party to that position. That party, however, declined to serve when Bastyr would not agree to allow payment of the personal representative from the proceeds of the estate. The estate thus went without a personal representative for a number of months. On January 28, 2002, the district court appointed Yantos as successor personal representative, but Yantos never satisfied the $15,000 bond requirement.
On June 14, 2001, Hardon sought specific performance of the purchase agreement. Hardon moved for summary judgment. After a hearing, the district court issued its order for summary judgment in favor of Hardon, concluding that Hardon had made a legally binding offer that Bastyr had accepted as personal representative, before her legal authority was suspended. The district court concluded that the sale of the decedent’s homestead was not precluded when there was no surviving spouse, and that the homestead descended as any other real estate. The district court reasoned that therefore, during the period she was personal representative, Bastyr had legal authority to act reasonably for the benefit of interested persons to sell the property for cash. The district court ordered that Hardon be allowed to inspect the property and, at her election, to proceed with the sale. This appeal followed.
D E C I S I O N
On appeal from summary judgment, we determine whether any issues of material fact exist and whether the district court erred in its application of the law. State by Cooper v. French, 460 N.W.2d 2, 4 (Minn. 1990); see also Minn. R. Civ. P. 56.03 (setting forth district court standard for summary judgment). In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, this court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. Grondahl v. Bulluck, 318 N.W.2d 240, 242 (Minn. 1982). Statutory construction is a question of law and thus fully reviewable. Hibbing Educ. Ass’n v. Pub. Employment Relations Bd., 369 N.W.2d 527, 529 (Minn. 1985).
Hardon argues, as the district court concluded, that Minn. Stat. § 524.2-402 (2002) did not preclude the sale of the decedent’s homestead when there is no surviving spouse, and that because there was no specific devise of the homestead, which passed under the residuary clause of the will, the homestead was not exempt from claims against the estate. We disagree.
Minn. Stat. § 524.2-402, subd. 2(b), (c) (2002) provides, in relevant part:
(b) If there is no surviving spouse and the homestead has not been disposed of by will it descends as other real estate. (c) If the homestead passes by descent or will to the spouse or decedent’s descendants, it is exempt from all debts which were not valid charges on it at the time of decedent’s death except that the homestead is subject to a claim filed pursuant to section 246.53 for state hospital care or 256B.15 for medical assistance benefits.
If a statute is free from ambiguity, we look only at its plain language. Minn. Stat. § 645.16 (2002). In this case, contrary to the district court’s interpretation, Minn. Stat. § 524.2-402 specifically states that a homestead passing “by descent or will to the spouse or the decedent’s descendants” shall be exempt from all debts that were not valid charges against it when the decedent died. (Emphasis added.) Thus, the statute explicitly provides for the descendants of the decedent to inherit the homestead free from most categories of debt. Furthermore, the statute does not differentiate between a homestead that passes by a specific devise from one that passes as a part of the residuary estate. Therefore, we conclude that the plain language of the statute accords to Yantos a right, as a descendant of Patek, to a statutory interest in the homestead.
Our interpretation of the statute is supported by prior Minnesota caselaw which reflect a longstanding policy of protecting the homestead from most claims against the estate. See, e.g., Bengtson v. Setterberg, 227 Minn. 337, 359, 35 N.W.2d 623, 634 (1949) (noting that the homestead is not part of the estate for the purposes of administration).
We recently held that a surviving spouse who had a life estate in the homestead could not defeat the remainder interest of decedent’s children by directing the personal representative to sell the homestead. See In re Estate of Van Den Boom, 590 N.W.2d 350, 354 (Minn. App. 1999) (stating that the homestead is not part of the estate for administration purposes, and, therefore, absent written agreement of the interested parties, the district court erred in directing the personal representative to sell the homestead), review denied (Minn. May 26, 1999). Other descendants, if there is no surviving spouse, may have an interest in maintaining the homestead free from debts arising after the death of the decedent. See In re Estate of Riggle, 654 N.W.2d 710, 714 (Minn. App. 2002) (noting emotional attachment of both spouse and children to homestead and strong economic interest in its continued occupancy or its availability as an asset).
Thus the plain language of section 524.2-402 which is supported by the public policy in favor of shielding the homestead from creditors after the decedent’s death, compels the conclusion that the homestead was not subject to sale by Bastyr as personal representative without Yantos’s consent.
Hardon also argues that, as a good faith purchaser for value, she had no notice that Bastyr may have lacked the authority to sell the homestead and therefore, she should be entitled to the benefit of the bargain. See Minn. Stat. § 524.3-714(a) (2002) (providing that, in dealing with a personal representative, a good faith purchaser for value “is protected as if the personal representative properly exercised power”). We disagree. Even if we assume that Hardon was a good faith purchaser, her claim does not appear in Minn. Stat. § 524.2-402 as a listed, permitted claim against the homestead. Further, if a statute contains general language and specific terms covering the same subject matter, the specific terms will prevail over the general language. McCarthy v. State, 280 Minn. 226, 231, 158 N.W.2d 708, 711 (1968); Johnson v. Gray, 533 N.W.2d 57, 63 (Minn. App. 1995). Thus, in the statutory scheme of the Minnesotaprobate code, we accord the specific provision regarding the homestead exemption in Minn. Stat. § 524.2-402 priority over the general provision of Minn. Stat. § 524.3-714(a) dealing with the protection of a good faith purchaser. In other words, the specific language of the homestead exemption trumps any attempt by a third party to buy the homestead from the estate to the detriment of the decedent’s descendants, whom the exemption was designed to protect.
Therefore, we conclude that the district court erred in ordering summary judgment to enforce the purchase agreement written in favor of Hardon. We note, however, the family conflict surrounding this estate and the continuing difficulty in its administration, and we emphasize the necessity of reaching a timely, equitable solution for final distribution of the assets of this estate.
* Retired judge of the district court, serving as judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.