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
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.
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.
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.
I. Personal Representative Fees
(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.
[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.