In re Estate of Stevens (WI)

Summary: The circuit court properly exercised its discretion under Wis. Stat. § 860.13 by approving a sale of real property owned by an estate to one of the estate’s personal representatives and her son.

Go to full opinion.


In re Estate of Stevens, 362 Wis.2d 484, 864 N.W.2d 900 (Wis.App. 2015), review denied.

Facts: George and Myrene Stevens were married for fifty-eight years and had no children together. They both had wills which left everything to each other, as well as identical provisions for the distribution of property in the event the other spouse died first. The wills provided that there would be four classes of beneficiaries which would each receive 25% of the estate. Lynda Horn (Horn), George’s daughter, would receive 25% of the estate. Lynda’s children, Steven Horn and Nicole Horn Ansel, each split their 25% share evenly. Diana Miller (Miller), Myrene’s niece, would receive a 25% share of the estate. The remaining 25% was to be split evenly between Myrene’s other nieces and nephews. In this final class of nieces and nephews was Darren Piette (Piette), who was entitled to 8 1/3% of the estate and is the beneficiary of the estate who brought the present suit.

Myrene predeceased George, and in July of 2013 George subsequently died. A petition for formal administration of George’s will was then filed in Oneida County. Horn and Miller were named personal representatives of George’s estate.

George’s estate contained an eighty-six acre property located in Vilas County. It was used as hunting land, contained a 640 square-foot concrete block hunting cabin, several deer stands, and at least one pond.

The personal representatives of George’s estate, Horn and Miller, hired appraiser Peter Walls to value the Vilas County property at the time of George’s death. Initially Walls valued an eighty-acre section of the property at $162,000 and the remaining six acres at $38,000, resulting in a total value of $200,000 if the property were sold in separate parcels. Walls estimated that if sold as a single parcel, the property would be worth $174,150.

Horn and her son then made an offer to purchase the property for $175,000. Horn then sent the other beneficiaries a letter informing them of the offer and seeking their consent. Piette did not consent to the offer.

Horn and Miller then had the property reappraised by Daniel Pudlo (Pudlo). Pudlo valued the entire property at $132,000 as of January 28, 2014. Horn and her son then made a second offer to purchase the property for $150,000. Five days later, Horn and Miller petitioned the court to authorize the sale pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 860.13.

Piette objected to the petition, arguing that the property should be sold for sale to the public; the property was worth more than $150,000; the sale would result in a financial benefit to Horn and her son at the expense of the other beneficiaries; and the Pudlo appraisal was untrustworthy since Pudlo’s wife, daughter, and son worked with Horn. Pudlo had the property reappraised by Sullivan Appraisal Services, which valued the property at $215,000 as of April 10, 2014.

At the circuit court evidentiary hearing, Pudlo was the only appraiser to testify. He explained why the other two appraisals were overestimations of the value of the property. Among the reasons were that the property had limited access to public utilities; the other appraisers used properties with much more attractive water features than present at the Vilas County property; the concrete cabin was overvalued; and noted that the property would be most valuable as one parcel of land due to access issues if the six acre parcel is not included.

The circuit court granted Horn and Miller’s petition for sale. The court concluded that the price offered by Horn and her son was reasonable and represented the fair market value of the property.


Holding: Affirmed. First, Wisconsin Stat. § 860.13 gives a circuit court authority to approve of a sale of estate property to a personal representative. The circuit court properly exercised its discretion by approving the sale of the Vilas County property. Wis. Stat. § 860.13 allows a personal representative to purchase property of the estate they represent if there is either written consent from the other interested parties or with court approval of the sale.

Case law and Wis. Stat. § 860.13 had no precedent for the circuit court to rely on, but the appellate court approved the circuit court’s use of the following factors: the likelihood that the sale price would be higher than Horn's offer if the property were offered for public sale, balanced against the attendant delay and increased holding costs that would result from publicly listing the property for sale; the relative interests of Horn and Piette in the proceeds of the sale; the property's highest and best use; the property's physical characteristics and improvements; the various appraisals, and the expertise and credibility of the appraisers; and the lack of evidence of self-dealing by Horn.

Second, the court acted within its discretion by approving the sale of estate property to a personal representative and her son for $150,000 despite competing appraisals valuing the property at higher amounts. The court correctly relied on Pudlo’s testimony to base its decision that a correct appraisal would value the property at $132,000 and the Horn offer of $150,000 was likely the highest offer the property could receive. The court noted that delaying the sale would incur additional expenses to the estate.

Finally, the court reasonably determined that Horn did not breach her fiduciary duties and engage in self-dealing by offering to purchase the property for $150,000 based on an appraised value of $132,000. The circuit court correctly accepted $150,000 as a fair market value for the property. The court also noted that Horn was entitled to a larger percentage as a beneficiary of the estate than Piette and had an interest in receiving the highest possible value for the property.


Opinion Year: 
By: ATG Underwriting Department | Posted on: Wed, 02/24/2016 - 4:46pm