This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).







In re the Estate of Oscar Johnson.



Filed January 18, 2005

Klaphake, Judge


Itasca County District Court

File No. P2-03-1043



Julie D. Johnson, 308 N. Soland Avenue, Denver City, TX  79323 (pro se appellant)


Leif A. Nelson, Lano, Nelson, O’Toole & Bengtson, Ltd., 515 Northeast Second Avenue, Grand Rapids, MN  55744 (for respondent Estate of Oscar Johnson)


Wallace J. Licke, 37918 Deer Lake Way, Grand Rapids, MN  55744; and


Kent E. Nyberg, Suite 101, 20 Northeast Fourth Street, Grand Rapids, MN  55744 (for respondent Oscar Johnson)


Jacob J. Baker, Hanft, Fride, 130 W. Superior St., Suite 1000, Duluth, MN  55802 (for respondent Diane Meyer)


            Considered and decided by Harten, Presiding Judge, Klaphake, Judge, and Forsberg, Judge.*

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


            Pro se appellant Julie Johnson contests a district court order denying in part her claim for reimbursement from the estate of her deceased husband for home health services that she provided to him before his death and other expenses.  The district court denied in its entirety appellant’s claim for reimbursement for home health care.  The court also disallowed a variety of claims for expenses that had been resolved when appellant’s guardianship of the estate was revoked.  The court ordered the estate to pay appellant $5,475.45 for other expenses that were either incurred shortly before the death or incurred after the death in maintenance of a homestead owned by the estate.  Because the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying appellant’s claims for reimbursement, we affirm.


            A probate court exercises its discretion when considering claims upon a decedent’s estate.  In re Estate of Hoppke, 388 N.W.2d 754, 756 (Minn. App. 1986).  We will not overrule that court’s factual findings unless, upon a review of the entire evidence, we are left with “a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made.”  In re Estate of Beecham, 378 N.W.2d 800, 802 (Minn. 1985).

            Appellant was married to Oscar Johnson from December 1998 until his death in 2003.  Early in 2000, Johnson suffered a series of strokes that left him largely incapacitated.  Appellant was appointed guardian and provided physical care to him.  In September of 2002, after appellant attempted to charge Johnson’s estate for his physical care, the district court found appellant unsuitable as guardian and revoked that guardianship. Following her husband’s death, appellant filed multiple claims against the estate, including a $10,312.83 claim for various expenses and a $646,786.80 claim for home health care services.  After the personal representative of the estate denied those claims, appellant filed a petition and various motions in district court, seeking relief on multiple issues. 

            Appellant’s pro se brief does not articulate any formal legal claims.  Rather, she quantifies in detail the time she spent caring for her husband and characterizes the injustices that she allegedly suffered at the hands of her husband’s children, the guardian ad litem, and the district court.  We believe that appellant’s primary concern is reimbursement for the care she provided for her husband after he suffered a series of strokes and for certain expenses incurred prior to the termination of her guardianship of his estate.  Appellant repeatedly contends that these claims were “validated” by legal process and that respondents have lost their right to object to the obligation, but she cites no legal authority for this view.

            In denying her any reimbursement for the value of home health care services, the district court cited In re Estate of Tilghman, 240 Minn. 494, 496, 61 N.W.2d 743, 745 (1953), for the legal presumption that services rendered between family members are gratuitous.  “The presumption of gratuity is dependent on the existence of a family relation and only arises when it is shown that the services rendered were of the type which members of a family usually and ordinarily render to each other by reason of family relation.”  In re Estate of Novak, 398 N.W.2d 653, 655 (Minn. App. 1987) (quotation omitted), review denied (Minn. Feb. 18, 1987).  The district court stated in its memorandum of law that it had been unable to find any cases allowing a spouse to recover for personal services provided to a deceased spouse, and appellant has provided no such legal authority in her brief. 

            Appellant appears to argue that she overcame the presumption that her services were gratuitous in two ways:  (1) by billing for the services, appellant put the estate on notice that she was not working for free; and (2) appellant was excluded from the family during her husband’s infirmity and thus was not a “family member” under the legal standard.  These factors may explain why appellant believes that she acted with an expectation of remuneration, but the law presumes that she was caring for her husband out of marital obligation.  While Minnesota courts have identified some factors relevant to overcoming that presumption in cases where a son or daughter has cared for a parent, appellant’s argument does not meet that standard.  See, e.g., Beecham, 378 N.W.2d at 804 (identifying type and quantity of services offered and lack of reciprocity as factors relevant to finding that daughter-in-law had successfully rebutted presumption of gratuity); Tilghman, 240 Minn. at 499, 61 N.W.2d at 747 (stating that intent to pay may be inferred from facts tending to negate the presumption that services were gratuitous); In re Anderson’s Estate, 157 Minn. 217, 219, 197 N.W. 671, 672 (1923) (“To overcome the presumption arising from the situation and relationship of the parties, it must appear not only that [son-in-law] furnished the support with the intention of charging for it, but also that [mother-in-law] accepted it with the understanding that she was to pay for it.”).

            Appellant also appears to take issue with the district court’s rejection of her claim for reimbursement for expenditures made to purchase items to benefit her husband.  As the district court stated in its memorandum, appellant made no claim for reimbursement of expenses incurred in 2000 and 2001 when filing an annual account in her role as guardian of her late husband’s estate, and her successor in that role filed an accounting in 2003 without objection.  Appellant now argues that she was prohibited from making those claims because of an administrative irregularity:  she refers to a “form” and the court’s rejection of claims submitted “on the front of the form.”  However, she does not refer us to any examples in the record of these “forms” or detail their deficiencies.  The district court cogently explained its rejection of these claims for reimbursement, and it granted appellant’s claim for expenses in part.  To the extent that the district court made factual findings based on evidence in the record, we find no clear error.

            For the foregoing reasons, we conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying appellant’s claims for reimbursement from her late husband’s estate.


* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.