Farmland can be partitioned in kind, IA appeals court rules

Iowa case law summary by Attorney Richard Clem: partition.

Bernard J. Wihlm, et al., v. Shirley A. Campbell, et al.. IA partition

This was a partition case involving approximately 300 acres of land in Cerro Gordo and Franklin Counties, Iowa, between three siblings who had inherited it. One sibling requested partition in kind, at least with respect to her share. The other siblings requested that the property be sold and the proceeds divided.

At common law, partition in kind was favored, but the Iowa rule is that partition by sale is favored, unless the party seeking partition in kind can demonstrate that division in kind is both equitable and practicable. The district court, Cerro Gordo county, Judge DeDra Schroeder, held that the party favoring partition in kind had not met this burden. Specifically, the trial court held that appraisal of the land, in the absence of an actual sale, was inherently speculative, rendering a division in kind impractical and inequitable, holding:

The volatile nature of farmland as affected by the crop prices has made a partition in kind merely guesswork when factoring in the nature and qualities of the land....The Court is simply not in a position to engage in guesswork to determine a division in kind, which may or may not be equitable to the parties. The true market value of the land will be ascertained through a sale on the free market.

The Iowa Court of Appeals disagreed:

We disagree with the conclusion that appraisal of farmland, generally, is merely a speculative endeavor.... “Appraisal is not an exact science, but a subjective exercise of professional judgment by qualified and skilled individuals who may reasonably disagree.” The record reflects that appraisal is absolutely more certain than mere speculation. Further, the appraiser’s opinion in this case was well-supported.

For these reasons, the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded.

No. 15-0011 (Iowa Ct. App. Sept. 14, 2016).

Please see the original opinion for the court's exact language.


Richard P. Clem is an attorney and continuing legal education (CLE) provider in Minnesota. He has been in private practice in the Twin Cities for 25 years. He has a J.D., cum laude, from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul and a B.A. in History from the University of Minnesota. His reported cases include: Asociacion Nacional de Pescadores a Pequena Escala o Artesanales de Colombia v. Dow Quimica de Colombia, 988 F.2d 559, rehearing denied, 5 F.3d 530 (5th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1041 (1994); LaMott v. Apple Valley Health Care Center, 465 N.W.2d 585 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991); Abo el Ela v. State, 468 N.W.2d 580 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991).

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