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Every year, in the spring, another farm publication runs a story about how to take land from your neighbor via adverse possession based on the idea that a fence moved a while back. It always generates interest and discussion, but when the facts and the law are pealed back far enough, rarely does the back 40 become the back 42. So, let us peal back Iowa Adverse Possession cases and take a look.

Iowa Adverse Possession

In Iowa, adverse possession determines acquisition of title (not use) to property by possession. The doctrine of adverse possession is based on the 10-year statute of limitations for recovery of real property in Iowa Code § 614.1(5).   A party claiming title by adverse possession must establish hostile, actual, open, exclusive, and continuous possession, under claim of right or color of title for at least ten years.   Proof of these elements must be "clear and positive." Because the law presumes possession is under regular title, the doctrine of adverse possession is strictly construed. That means it is not going to be something the court wants to find.

Planning aging while you are competent and able to find suitable help is paramount to your success in later years.
 
An Iowa criminal case that finished up its appeals process recently, shows us how elderly individuals can be easily abused, both physically and financially. In this case, Mr. Bean, an non relative care giver was convicted of   involuntary manslaughter, two counts of second-degree theft, neglect of a dependent person, and two counts of dependent adult abuse.
 
Here are the facts: Bean rented farm property from a brother and sister without close family. He got himself appointed as power of attorney holder and named beneficiary under their wills and became a contract purchaser of the pair's property at below market value. When Bean did get a bank loan to pay off the contract purchase, he used his power of attorney to give the sale proceeds right back to him and his wife. Bean paid his personal bills with the pairs funds.  After the brother's death,   Bean relocated the sister to a remote farm house and lived with her. The sister, from the time of the move until her death received no medical attention, even though she had been previously prescribed medication for a variety of issues. In the year she lived with her power of attorney holder before her death, her weight went from 134 pounds to 74 and her right arm had been broken, but had never been set. She had   broken ribs and bruising.   
 
How can this happen in Iowa? Easy, when a person executes certain duties under a financial power of attorney for another individual, the courts have a very limited ability to review those actions.  Bean isolated this couple and took advantage of them with no checks on balances on his authority and power. We as a society have no positive duty to act without a relationship to another person. That means that it is not crime to watch someone get wounded or worse if you don't owe that person a duty (like a power of attorney, guardian, care giver, etc, etc). We in Iowa have a mind your own business attitude. Coupled with the privacy laws and policies, often times people can see a piece but not enough to see the trend.

First, before we can talk about succession planning, we need to establish that the current generation wants someone to succeed them on the farm. From the Iowa State Surveys, 75% of farmers haven’t identified a successor no data on 25% who had identified them, if they had told the successor. Nearly 50% of farmers indicate that semi-retirement (withdrawal of some labor and management) is a close as they plan on getting to retirement. Another 30% plan to never stop providing labor and management to the farm.

If the farm operator never plans to quit really working, it makes it hard to plan to hand it off in life or death. Again, from Iowa State surveys, it appears that over 40% of farm operators are not talking to anyone regarding an exit plan of any type.

If you fall into this category of never planning to retire and not making any plans regarding transition, you are doing your family a disservice.  It is leaving the next generation dazed and confused regarding the future when you do die.

Having the Conversation about succession planning.

Consider whether you are having a family conversation or a business conversation. Discussion about farm succession choices before the turkey is served or the grandson hits the football field are going to be muddled, confused and not yield the result that anybody intended. Consider having the business discussions some other place than the kitchen table. It will help define that in this discussion you are not relating to one another as family but as business operators.

Everybody likes progress, cheap commodities like food, water and energy and nobody likes change. These are truths that can be bet upon time eternal regardless of what region of the country you are in. This is called the NIBY principle. Not In My Back yard.

Yet,  in order to achieve cheap commodities, quick access to what we want, infrastructure has to be in place. This year, BNSF railroad hauled nearly 1 million car loads of ag commodities across the country, with rail traffic into Minnesota , Montana and the Dakotas increasing by 31% in the last 5 years and outgoing traffic increasing b y 69%.  The oil production boom has something to do with  those numbers certainly.  All that traffic means more demand for existing rail space and the thought of more rail lines.

I doubt anyone is lining up to allow railroads to cut their fields up into smaller parcels. The same holds true for the Rock Island Clean Line energy lines. This project will deliver 3500 megawatts of energy from Northwest Iowa to Illinois and other eastern states over 500 miles. While many landowners will eventually give easements, others will not be swayed. We use eminent domain as a process to allocate between the rights of an individual and the needs of society for improvement and progress. This process is a lengthy one. In February , the proponents of the energy line asked the Iowa Utilities board to approve their concept and plan and then allow them to go back in to use eminent domain for the parcels that would not sell. This was not allowed by the board. If it had been, the leverage the energy line would have been able to bring to bear would be large. It is much easier to take away one parcel from the unwilling when all others have already given in and been paid. It is a far more difficult row to hoe when many parcels are not yet secured. Currently 1248 objections have been filed to the line and less than 15% of the proposed route has been secured via voluntary easements.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019
  • Patrick B. Dillon
  • Jill Dillon
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Patrick B. Dillon enjoys finding solutions to legal issues and catching problems for clients. Pat practices in the Sumner office regularly represents clients in district, associate district and magistrate courts for agricultural, real estate, criminal and collection issues. He drafts wills and trusts, creates estate plans and helps clients through the probate process.
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Jill Dillon focuses on family law, estate planning and IRS matters. Jill is a University of Northern Iowa undergraduate (Political Science Cum Laude) and a Drake University Law School graduate. Jill spent extensive time advocating for low income tax payers in front of the IRS and the State of Iowa Department of Revenue while at Drake.

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