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Estate of Jedrzejewski v. Bierma

December 18, 2008

ESTATE OF ELSIE M. JEDRZEJEWSKI, BY AND THROUGH THE PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE, DAVID G. SEVERN, APPELLANT (PLAINTIFF),
v.
JANET L. BIERMA, APPELLEE (DEFENDANT).



Appeal from the District Court of Laramie County The Honorable Nicholas G. Kalokathis, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Golden, Justice.

Before VOIGT, C.J., and GOLDEN, HILL, KITE, BURKE, JJ.

[¶1] Elsie Jedrzejewski, through her estate, is appealing the district court‟s decision upholding a deed of her residence in favor of Janet Bierma. Jedrzejewski alleges Bierma obtained her signature on the deed by wrongful act. She also claims the deed is unenforceable due to lack of consideration and lack of proper notarization. Finding no error in the district court‟s decision, we affirm.

ISSUES

[¶2] Jedrzejewski presents three issues for review:

A. Did the District Court err when it declared as a matter of law that the Appellant [sic] holds title to the property described in the 1997 deed purportedly signed by the Appellant in favor of the Appellee ("purported deed") despite the lack of acknowledgement or of proper acknowledgement pursuant to Wyo. Stat. §34-1-113?

B. Did the District Court err when it concluded as a matter of law that the purported deed is a valid contract between the Appellant and the Appellee despite the lack of consideration paid by the Appellee to the Appellant for the property?

C. Did the District Court err when it concluded as a matter of law that the purported deed is a valid contract between the Appellant and the Appellee despite evidence that the Appellee obtained the Appellant‟s signature on the purported deed through a wrongful act?

FACTS

[¶3] Bierma is Jedrzejewski‟s stepdaughter. Jedrzejewski married Bierma‟s father in the early 1980‟s. Bierma‟s father died a few years later. After his death, Jedrzejewski and Bierma maintained a close relationship. Jedrzejewski spent holidays with Bierma and went on vacations with her. When Bierma moved to Wyoming, Jedrzejewski followed to remain close to her. Upon arrival in Wyoming in 1995, Jedrzejewski bought the house at issue in this case.

[¶4] In March of 1997, Jedrzejewski underwent successful surgery to remove a benign brain tumor. In May 1997, Jedrzejewski, with Bierma‟s help, reviewed and updated her estate plan. This included updating her will. Jedrzejewski also signed the title of her automobile over to Bierma. The will was signed by Jedrzejewski and purportedly notarized on May 29, 1997. The automobile title was signed by Jedrzejewski and purportedly notarized on May 22, 1997.

[¶5] Also on May 22, 1997, a general power of attorney and a warranty deed from Jedrzejewski to Bierma were signed and purportedly notarized. Jedrzejewski testified she never signed either document. She thought her signature might have been forged by Bierma. Bierma, on the other hand, testified Jedrzejewski was concerned about potential future creditors attaching her property. In order to avoid this, Jedrzejewski, of her own volition, decided to deed her house to Bierma. Bierma understood that deeding the house to her was only an estate planning mechanism. Jedrzejewski would maintain possession of the house and pay all related bills until her death. Bierma paid no consideration for the deed and Jedrzejewski did, in fact, remain in the house, paying all bills.

[¶6] Bierma testified Jedrzejewski signed all three documents -- the power of attorney, warranty deed to the house, and title to the automobile -- in her presence and in the presence of a notary on May 22, 1997. These three documents, along with Jedrzejewski‟s will dated May 29, 1997, were purportedly notarized by a notarial officer whose notary commission had expired in November 1995.

[¶7] Jedrzejewski testified she first discovered the deed to her house was in Bierma‟s name in 2001. She did not, however, confront Bierma about this. According to Jedrzejewski‟s testimony, she and Bierma maintained a friendly and trusting relationship. Their relationship changed, however, in March 2002 when they stopped speaking. According to Jedrzejewski‟s testimony, nothing untoward happened. According to Bierma‟s testimony, Jedrzejewski became upset because Bierma‟s adult son was staying with her but was not helping with any household expenses. Bierma had told Jedrzejewski from the ...


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