This opinion will be unpublished and
In Re the Estate of: Constance Marie Vossberg, a/k/a Constance M. Vossberg.
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In Re the Estate of: Constance Marie Vossberg,
a/k/a Constance M. Vossberg
Filed July 22, 1997
Hennepin County District Court
File No. P4-94-2030
Dudley R. Younkin, Strutzman Building, 733 East Seventh Street, St. Paul, MN 55106 (for Appellant Nicholas W. Vossberg)
Scott W. Lofthus, Sjostrom and Lofthus, 807 Twelve Oaks Center, 15500 Wayzata Boulevard, Wayzata, MN 55391-1418 (for Respondents Lorna J. Anderson and Angela M. Anderson)
Considered and decided by Peterson, Presiding Judge, Toussaint, Chief Judge, and Amundson, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Appellant Nicholas W. Vossberg challenges the district court's limitation on his fees as a personal representative for his deceased mother's estate. Respondents Lorna J. Anderson and Angela M. Anderson filed a counterclaim, arguing: (1) the contents of the decedent's safe deposit box were improperly determined to be probate assets; (2) appellant should be removed as personal representative, or in the alternative, the estate should be closed; and (3) they were improperly denied attorney fees.
Constance Marie Vossberg died on September 27, 1994. Her son, appellant Nicholas W. Vossberg, was informally appointed personal representative of the estate pursuant to his mother's wishes. Appellant inventoried and began dividing the estate, refusing offers of help from his sisters, respondents Lorna J. Anderson and Angela M. Anderson. Appellant charged the estate over $9,000 in personal representative fees.
On September 5 and 9, 1996, a referee heard appellant's request to formally determine whether payable on death (POD) accounts and the contents of a safe deposit box were probate assets, as well as respondents' petition to limit the personal representative fees. On December 6, 1996, the district court reviewed the decision, determining that the POD accounts and the contents of the decedent's safe deposit box were probate assets; the court also ordered that appellant's personal representative fees be $3,500 (plus $600 for storage costs), approximately $6,000 less than requested. The district court denied respondents' request for $2,000 in attorney fees. This appeal followed.
D E C I S I O N
I. Personal Representative Fees
Appellant argues that the district court abused its discretion by limiting his personal representative fees to $3,500 (and $600 for storage costs). Under Minnesota law, a personal representative is entitled to reasonable compensation for services; the reasonableness of that compensation is determined by considering the following factors:
(1) The time and labor required;
(2) The complexity and novelty of problems involved; and
(3) The extent of the responsibilities assumed and the results obtained.
Minn. Stat. § 524.3-719 (1996). The award of fees for administration of an estate is within the discretion of the district court. In re Estate of Balafas, 302 Minn. 512, 516, 225 N.W.2d 539, 541 (1975). It is the district courts' duty to protect estates in probate "from dissipation by exorbitant allowances to their officers." In re Simmons' Estate, 214 Minn. 388, 397, 8 N.W.2d 222, 226 (1943).
Appellant argues that he properly pursued the interests of the estate and that because of acrimonious family relations, the distribution of property was a long and difficult process. However, given the size of the estate and its relative lack of complexity, the district court did not abuse its discretion in limiting appellant's fees. The estate was valued at less than $100,000 ($75,041 in cash, $12,323 in personal property, and $1,122 in insurance proceeds); the decedent directed that the estate be divided evenly among her heirs. Appellant logged 160 hours (his billing for those hours was $1,800) alone dealing with personal property valued at approximately $12,000. The appraisal process was lengthened by his insistence on not leaving any of the property with a professional appraiser; it took six months to find a jeweler who would appraise watches while appellant waited. Appellant should have hired less expensive labor to perform the more menial tasks involved (such as cleaning the decedent's house). The district court did not abuse its discretion in limiting appellant's personal representative fees.
II. Safe Deposit Box
Respondents argue that the district court improperly determined that the contents of the decedent's safe deposit box were probate assets. Respondent Lorna Anderson, one of the decedent's daughters, was listed as the co-lessee of the decedent's safe deposit box; respondents argue that therefore the contents of the box are non-probate assets. An examination of the law establishes otherwise. One source summarizes the general rule:
[T]he joint lease of a box alone is insufficient to establish a gift of any of its contents from one lessee to another, even though after the death of one the survivor becomes exclusively entitled to access.
Joseph E. Edwards, L.L.B., Annotation, Joint Lease of Safe-Deposit Box as Evidence in Support or Denial of Gift Inter Vivos of Contents Thereof, 40 A.L.R. 3d 462,466 (1971). Given the legal presumption and the lack of evidence to the contrary, the district court did not err by concluding that the contents of the safe deposit box were probate assets.
III. Closing of Estate/Removal of Personal Representative
Respondents contend that the district court erred by not affirming the referee's decision to remove appellant as the personal representative, or in the alternative, by not closing the estate. The district court properly addressed respondents' concerns by limiting the personal representative fees of appellant.
IV. Attorney Fees
The award of attorney fees is within the discretion of the district court. Balafas, 302 Minn. at 516, 225 N.W.2d at 541. Respondents argue that the district court abused its discretion in denying their request for attorney fees. They cite a 1949 case that directs that costs and attorney fees may be allowed to a necessary party who is acting primarily for the benefit of the estate. See In re Atwood's Trust v. Holmes, 277 Minn. 495, 35 N.W.2d 736, 740 (1949). We do not find this persuasive. The district court did not abuse its discretion in denying attorney fees.