This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
The Estate of Mathew Alan Spangler,
Filed December 24, 2002
Washington County District Court
File No. P7-02-400027
Mary M. Huot, Huot & Spangler, P.L.L.P., Merriam Park Professional Offices, 1678 Selby Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55104 (for appellant Evon Spangler)
Peggy L. Stevens, Larry B. Stevens & Associates, 2233 North Hamline, Suite 412, Roseville, MN 55113 (for respondent F. Joseph Williams)
Considered and decided by Klaphake, Presiding Judge, Kalitowski, Judge, and Harten, Judge.
Appellant challenges the district court’s order appointing a personal representative for her deceased husband’s estate. Because we see no error in the district court’s decision to appoint a personal representative, we affirm.
On 5 April 2000, Michael Spangler, Timothy Hannon, and William Wilson died in a plane crash in Florida. All three men were pilots employed by BankAir, Inc. (BankAir). Spangler and Hannon were preparing to take a flight exam, and Wilson was instructing them. Spangler was a Minnesota resident. His widow and sole heir, appellant Evon Spangler, never commenced proceedings to probate her husband’s estate.
In June 2001, Hannon’s parents filed a wrongful death action in Florida against multiple parties, including Spangler’s estate. They were unable to serve process on the estate, however, because a personal representative had never been appointed.
In January 2002, F. Joseph Williams, acting on behalf of Hannon’s parents, petitioned to begin formal testacy proceedings in Minnesota. In the petition, Williams stated that he was an “interested person” because Hannon’s parents were “creditors” of Spangler’s estate. He also stated:
This petition is brought for the purpose of a wrongful death lawsuit brought against the Estate of Matthew Spangler, which is attached hereto. This negligence action cannot be maintained without the Estate of Matthew Spangler. There is insurance coverage for the airplane accident, which would cover Matthew Spangler.
Williams included a copy of a liability insurance policy held by BankAir. The policy indemnified BankAir’s employees from claims asserted by other employees arising out of the use of its aircraft. Finally, Williams requested that the district court appoint him personal representative of Spangler’s estate.
Appellant formally objected to the appointment of Williams as personal representative of her husband’s estate, arguing that Williams had fraudulently claimed that Hannon’s parents were creditors of Spangler’s estate. Appellant also asserted that, if the district court needed to appoint a personal representative, she should be appointed. After a hearing, the district court appointed Williams as personal representative but ordered that appellant would become successor personal representative upon qualification, acceptance and notice to Williams. Appellant was eventually appointed personal representative.
Appellant now challenges the district court’s order appointing her. She argues that (1) Williams was not an “interested person” and therefore lacked standing to bring the petition, (2) service on appellant was improper, and (3) Spangler’s estate had no assets.
D E C I S I O N
1. Standing As Interested Person
Application of a statute to the undisputed facts of a case involves a question of law, and the district court’s decision is not binding on this court. O’Malley v. Ulland Bros., 549 N.W.2d 889, 892 (Minn. 1996).
Under Minnesota’s Uniform Probate Code, “[a] formal testacy proceeding may be commenced by an interested person * * * filing a petition * * * .” Minn. Stat. § 524.3-401 (2000). An “interested person” is defined to include
heirs, devisees, children, spouses, creditors, beneficiaries and any others having a property right in or claim against the estate of a decedent, ward or protected person which may be affected by the proceeding. It also includes * * * other fiduciaries representing interested persons. The meaning as it relates to particular persons may vary from time to time and must be determined according to the particular purposes of, and matter involved in, any proceeding.
Minn. Stat. § 524.1-201(24) (2000) (emphasis added). The term “interested person,” like all provisions of the probate code, is to be liberally construed. See Minn. Stat. § 524.1-102(a) (2000) (provisions of probate code are to be liberally construed); see also In re Eklund’s Estate, 174 Minn. 28, 33, 218 N.W. 235, 237 (1928) (construing predecessor statute and stating that “[i]t is now well settled in this state that a literal, strict construction is not to be placed upon the words ‘person interested in the estate’”).
Minn. Stat. § 524.3-803 (2000) concerns limitations on the presentation of claims against an estate. The statute provides:
Nothing in this section affects or prevents: * * *
any proceeding to establish liability of the decedent or the personal representative for which there is protection by liability insurance, to the limits of the insurance protection only[.]
Minn. Stat. § 524.3-803(c)(2). The district court relied on this statute and implicitly found that Williams was an interested person when it granted his petition. The district court concluded that
[t]he appointment of a personal representative of the Estate is necessary for the Florida Court to reach the decision whether [Spangler’s] estate is liable for anything from which his estate is protected by liability insurance.
See also Minn. Stat. § 524.3-104 (2000) (a proceeding to enforce a claim against an estate may not be commenced “before the appointment of a personal representative”). The legislature has explicitly recognized the validity of proceedings against an estate for which there is protection by liability insurance. We conclude that the district court did not err in finding that Williams was an interested person and appointing a personal representative so that such a proceeding could commence.
2. Notice of Appointment Proceedings
In proceedings for the formal appointment of a personal representative, Minn. R. Gen. Pract. 404(b) provides that
[m]ailed notice shall be given to * * * all interested persons as defined by the code * * * and shall include in appropriate cases * * * lawyers representing the interested persons.
Although appellant received notice of the proceedings, she argues that service was improper because her Florida attorney did not receive notice. Minn. Stat. § 524.1‑401(d) (2000), however, states that “[n]o defect in any notice * * * shall limit or affect the validity of the appointment * * * of the personal representative.” Appellant received notice, and Williams’s failure to send notice to appellant’s Florida attorney does not affect the validity of the district court’s appointment of a personal representative.
3. Lack of Assets
Appellant argues that no personal representative should have been appointed because the estate had no assets. An appellate court will reverse a district court’s findings of fact “only when those findings are clearly erroneous.” Fletcher v. St. Paul Pioneer Press, 589 N.W.2d 96, 102 (Minn. 1999) (citing Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01). “Findings of fact are considered clearly erroneous only if they are not reasonably supported by the evidence.” Id. The district court found that Spangler’s estate included at least some assets. The record supports this finding; appellant admitted that Spangler left an automobile worth $900.
We conclude that the district court did not err in appointing a personal representative.