This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).






Estate of

Joseph G. Francis, Deceased.


Filed July 19 2005

Klaphake, Judge


Hennepin County District Court

File No. P1-97-542


Pamela Francis, 7720 66th Street North, Pine Springs, MN  55115 (pro se appellant)


William J. Berens, Christopher T. Shaheen, Dorsey & Whitney, LLP, Suite 1500, 50 South Sixth Street, Minneapolis, MN  55402-1498 (for respondent estate)


Richard A. Wilhoit, 2200 First National Bank Building, 332 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN  55101 (for respondent Margaret Kyle)


Gary D. McDowell, Lindquist & Vennum, 4200 IDS Center, 80 South 8th Street, Minneapolis, MN  55402 (Guardian Ad Litem)


            Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge, Klaphake, Judge, and Crippen, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


            Pro se appellant Pamela Francis challenges the district court’s rejection of her objections to several petitions filed by respondents Barbara A.E. Francis and Susan Francis Goldstein, and Marshall & Isley Trust Company, N.A., who are the former and current personal representatives of her deceased husband’s estate and the trustee of trusts set up for the benefit of decedent’s children.[1]  The petitions sought:  (1) approval of the personal representatives’ final accounts; (2) authorization to sell certain partnership units and corporate stock owned by the trusts; (3) payment of all remaining claims against the estate, including the claims of the decedent’s mother, Florence Francis, for more than $197,000; and (4) distribution of the remaining assets in accordance with a December 13, 2000 order approving a proposal submitted by the involved parties.  Appellant also challenges the district court’s denial of her request to remove the guardian ad litem, Gary McDowell, who was appointed to represent her children’s interests in the trust when appellant chose to elect against the will.[2]

            Because the district court did not clearly err in its findings or otherwise abuse its discretion in its decisions, we affirm.


            On review, this court “evaluate[s] the district court’s findings concerning wills and trusts under a clearly erroneous standard and review[s] conclusions of law de novo.”  In re Trust Created under Agreement, 660 N.W.2d 421, 425-26 (Minn. App. 2003).  “Findings of fact are clearly erroneous only if the reviewing court is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made.”  Fletcher v. St. Paul Pioneer Press, 589 N.W.2d 96, 101 (Minn. 1999) (quotation omitted).


            Appellant first challenges the district court’s denial of her request to remove Gary McDowell as GAL for her three children.  In 1997, appellant specifically sought McDowell’s appointment as the GAL for her children due to the inherent conflict of interest stemming from her election against the will.  In her petition for appointment of a GAL, she stated that she believed “it would be in the best interests” of her children to appoint a GAL and that McDowell was qualified to serve in that role because he has “considerable experience in probate and trust law matters.”

            Appellant now insists that McDowell “should have never been appointed” and that he “has not been involved in this case from the time that a partial distribution was made and therefore should have been removed.”  She further complains that his fees of more than $74,000 are too high and asserts that most of these fees were incurred for services he performed to bring a malpractice action against the attorney who drafted the void antenuptial agreement.  With respect to McDowell’s services, appellant fails to raise specific objections and merely claims that he “did not stand up for [the children] and make sure that they got equal shares and [were] treated equal to the [other] children.”

            On review, this court will not overturn a district court’s decision regarding the removal of a guardian ad litem absent an abuse of discretion.  See In re Welfare of M.J.L., 582 N.W.2d 585, 589 (Minn. App. 1998).  In cases involving removal of a guardian ad litem, courts have generally applied the best interests standard.  Id. (applying best interests standard used for removal of guardian in probate proceedings to proceedings involving child neglect and child custody); see Minn. Stat. § 524.1-403(4) (2002).

            The district court here concluded that there “are no reasonable grounds for the removal of Mr. McDowell as guardian ad litem.”  In an attached memorandum, the court rejects appellant’s objections to McDowell as follows:

The court has reviewed the files in this matter and does not agree with the assessment Ms. Francis has made of the work of Mr. McDowell.  This has been a contentious estate.  The guardian ad litem has striven to have this estate administration end with the children receiving the most money that they can get.  Ms. Francis’ continuing objections have been resolved already and pursuing these matters will net the children less money.  Mr. McDowell is correct in his position.  Regarding the ability of Ms. Francis to raise issues concerning the children, [respondents] strongly urge that she lacks standing because the children have a guardian ad litem.  Ms. Francis responds that she is after all the mother of these children and she does not understand how she cannot speak for them.  Technically [respondents] are correct:  Mr. McDowell is the representative of the children.  The court is sympathetic to the argument of Ms. Francis and her concerns have been considered.  But she is simply incorrect about the position the guardian ad litem has taken.  Her concerns have been considered.


From this, we conclude that the district court found that McDowell was acting in the children’s best interests by conserving the trust funds and putting an end to any additional litigation.  See M.J.L., 582 N.W.2d at 589 (stating that “where applicable, a court may use the best-interests factors of section 518.17, but it is not limited to only those factors nor need it apply all of them”).  We therefore affirm the district court’s denial of appellant’s motion to remove GAL McDowell.


            Appellant argues that her children should not be forced to sell their shares in the family partnership.  She challenges the value assigned to the shares, as based on a valuation reached by a “personal friend of the family.”  She further alleges that the partnership “is not unstable and the three younger children should in fact have been able to keep their shares.”

            The method used by trustees to determine the value of assets must be reasonable, and if trustees act in good faith and from proper motives, we will not interfere with their decisions.  See United States v. O’Shaughnessy, 517 N.W.2d 574, 577 (Minn. 1994) (stating trustees’ acts must be within bounds of reasonable judgment); Minn. Stat. § 524.3-906(a)(3) (2002) (providing that personal representative may ascertain value of estate’s assets for distribution “in any reasonable way”).  The value assigned here was based on the value assigned to those assets for federal estate tax purposes.  This method of valuation was essentially agreed to by the parties and adopted by the court in its December 13, 2000 order.  Appellant presents no concrete evidence to show that the valuation assigned to these assets was unreasonable.

            Guardian ad litem McDowell approved the sale of these assets for the benefit of his wards, appellant’s three children.  In response to appellant’s objections to the sale, respondents argued that appellant lacked standing to challenge the proposed sale because she was not an “interested person” under Minn. Stat. § 501B.16 (2002) (providing that person interested in trust may file petition challenging administration of trust or discharge of trustee’s duties).  An “interested person” is generally a person with a specific financial stake in or a claim against the trust.  In re Horton, 668 N.W.2d 208, 213 (Minn. App. 2003).  Because appellant’s consent, agreement, or approval with respect to the sale of the trust assets was not required, she lacks standing to challenge that sale.  See In re Estate of Truhn, 394 N.W.2d 864, 866 (Minn. App. 1986) (holding that minor beneficiaries’ mother’s consent to enter into agreement not required when court properly appointed guardian ad litem to represent minors’ interests).

            Even if appellant has standing, the GAL’s decision to sell the partnership units and corporate shares was entirely reasonable and in the children’s best interests.  The assets at issue are units and stock of a closely held family business, which are not liquid and cannot be sold on the public market.  As such, the GAL considered the offer to purchase as the best available opportunity to obtain cash in order to replenish the corpus of the trust.  As the district court found, the proposed sale is “in the best interests of the [trust] beneficiaries” because the “offer to purchase these interests right now will generate income for the children,” will “liquidate an illiquid asset, for there is no market for these assets outside of the Francis family” and “will allow the children to move out of a speculative asset and into a safe one.”


            Appellant challenges the district court’s decision to allow decedent’s mother, Florence Francis, to recover her claim against the estate.  She criticizes the failure by the original co-representatives, Barbara Francis and Susan Goldstein, to contest the claim or to require their mother to prove her claim.  Appellant further complains that the personal representatives’ failure to pay this claim sooner resulted in the estate incurring more than $70,000 in interest expenses.

            In approving the payment of Florence Francis’ claims, the district court determined:  (1) the debt owed to Florence Francis was properly evidenced by valid promissory notes; (2) because the claims were not disallowed within the time period set out in Minn. Stat. § 524.3.806 (2002), they were deemed allowed under that statute; and (3) the dispute over Florence Francis’ claims was previously resolved by the parties’ settlement agreement that was approved by the district court’s December 13, 2000 order. 

            These determinations are supported by the law and evidence.  The probate code, which establishes a procedure for dealing with creditors’ claims against an estate, places an affirmative duty on the personal representative to notify a claimant of disallowance of a claim submitted against an estate.  Minn. Stat. § 524.3-806(a).  If a claim is not disallowed within two months after the closing of the statutorily prescribed four-month claim period, the claim is deemed allowed.  See Peterson v. Marston, 362 N.W.2d 309, 314 (Minn. 1985).  Because Florence Francis timely filed her claims and because those claims were not disallowed within the statutory time period, they must be deemed allowed under Minn. Stat. § 524.3-806.

            Once a claim has been allowed, it may be disallowed only if the personal representative, upon notice to the claimant, files a petition claiming that the claim should be disallowed “for cause shown.”  Id.  Appellant provides no basis for such a challenge.  The claims were evidenced by signed promissory notes, which appeared valid on their face.  Other than appellant’s speculation about whether decedent received any money in exchange for the notes, there is no evidence to question their validity.

            The district court further determined that appellant is precluded from challenging the validity of these claims because the issue was resolved by the parties’ settlement, which was approved by order dated December 13, 2000.  Appellant was represented by counsel during the negotiation and finalization of that settlement.  Thus, we cannot conclude that the district court erred or otherwise abused its discretion in allowing this claim.


            Appellant challenges the final accounting and claims that her objections were not entirely heard.  The district court allowed the final accounting, noting:  (1) the personal representatives filed and presented their accountings and set forth all transactions of the estate; (2) both guardians ad litem for the two sets of children consented to the final accountings; and (3) many of appellant’s objections are barred by the parties’ proposed distribution, which was approved by the district court’s December 13, 2000 order.

            Appellant’s challenges here on appeal to the final accounting are largely unintelligible.  While she appears to challenge the reasonableness of the attorney fees, the parties essentially agreed to the calculation of fees under the terms of the December 13, 2000 order.  Because appellant’s briefing lacks specific arguments and legal analyses, we deem waived any other issues she has raised and decline to reach them.  See State v. Modern Recycling, Inc., 558 N.W.2d 770, 772 (Minn. App. 1997) (holding that assignment of error in appellate brief, which is based on “mere assertion” and unsupported by argument or authority, is waived unless prejudice is obvious on mere inspection); State, Dep’t of Labor & Industry v. Wintz Parcel Drivers, Inc., 558 N.W.2d 480, 481 (Minn. 1997) (holding that in absence of adequate briefing, reviewing court may decline to reach issue or argument unsupported by legal analysis or citation); Ganguli v. Univ. of Minn., 512 N.W.2d 918, 919 n.1 (Minn. App. 1994) (same).

            We therefore affirm the district court’s orders.


[1]  Appellant and decedent were married in 1992, and he died in 1997.  After decedent’s 1997 will was entered into probate, appellant petitioned for homestead rights and maintenance payments.  The estate was ordered to make payments to her after the couple’s antenuptial agreement was declared void.  Estate of Francis, 1998 WL 887472, at **1 (Minn. App. Dec. 22, 1998) (affirming district court’s determination that antenuptial agreement was void because it was not signed by two witnesses and a notary as required by statute), review denied (Minn. Feb. 24, 1999).

[2]  Respondent McDowell, the GAL appointed to represent appellant’s three children, has indicated by letter to this court that he would not file a brief in this matter and that he “fully concurs” with the brief submitted by the personal representatives and trustee.  Respondent Margaret Kyle, who was decedent’s first wife and is the mother of his other two children and their appointed GAL, has also indicated by letter to this court that she concurs with the brief submitted by the personal representatives and trustee.