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 Thomas J. Van Den Boom, Deceased.
Affirmed in part and reversed in part
Aitkin County District Court
File No. P593160
Ryan E. Langsev, Bale Anderson Polstein Pearson & Hill, Ltd., 607 Marquette Avenue, Suite 400, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for respondent Arlene M. Van Den Boom)
Charles P. Steinbauer, Borden, Steinbauer & Krueger, P.A., 302 South Sixth Street, P.O. Box 411, Brainerd, MN 56401 (for respondent Robert Janzen)
Considered and decided by Parker, Presiding Judge, Crippen, Judge, and Short, Judge.
After Thomas J. Van Den Boom's (decedent's) death, his four adult children and his wife, Arlene M. Van Den Boom (widow), petitioned for formal probate of his will. On appeal from a denial of his motions for various forms of relief, the decedent's eldest son, Gary Van Den Boom (Van Den Boom), argues the trial court committed errors of fact and law. We affirm in part and reverse in part.
D E C I S I O N
This court will not set aside a trial court's findings of fact unless clearly erroneous. Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01; Gjovik v. Strope, 401 N.W.2d 664, 667 (Minn. 1987). However, we do not defer to a trial court's decision on a purely legal issue. Frost-Benco Elec. Ass'n v. Minnesota Pub. Utils. Comm'n, 358 N.W.2d 639, 642 (Minn. 1984).
While Van Den Boom argues the personal representative generally mismanaged and failed to preserve the estate, the trial court found the personal representative: (1) was a licensed auctioneer who regularly took inventories of clients' tools, antiques, machinery, and equipment as part of his profession; (2) had served as a court-appointed estate administrator for 15 years; (3) twice inventoried the decedent's homestead, garage, shop, and shed; (4) inventoried 197 separate items of personal property; (5) submitted an official inventory far more detailed than that typically prepared for an estate of this size; (6) obtained legal representation at the trial court's "strong encouragement"; (7) conferred with Van Den Boom, the widow, and their respective counsel on numerous occasions; (8) filed with the court a detailed invoice for his services, showing he had spent significant time administering the decedent's estate; (9) committed no wrongdoing with respect to the estate administration; and (10) had commendably "h[eld] up under the pressure of administering this estate." The trial court's findings of fact are amply supported by the record. Under these circumstances, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to remove the personal representative from his position or in awarding the personal representative reasonable compensation and attorney fees.
Van Den Boom also argues the trial court erred in allowing reimbursement of the widow's total claimed funeral expenses. However, reasonable funeral expenses may be paid from a deceased's estate. Minn. Stat. § 524.3-715(18) (1996). The record shows the widow submitted a written statement from the funeral home and gave oral testimony alleging she had paid a funeral bill in the amount of $2,622. While Van Den Boom asserts the funeral bill was partially defrayed by a Social Security payment, the trial court excluded his supporting documents on a foundation objection, and Van Den Boom did not appeal that exclusion. Under these circumstances, the trial court did not clearly err in finding the widow had personally paid the entire amount of the claimed funeral expenses.
Van Den Boom further argues the trial court erred in ordering payment of the decedent's and the widow's 1992 joint federal and state income taxes out of estate funds. However, a surviving spouse may file an income tax return jointly with his or her deceased spouse. 1 Robert A. Stein, Stein on Probate § 11.02(c) (3d ed. 1995) (citing 26 U.S.C. § 6013(a)(2) (1994)). If a joint return is made, the tax liability is joint and several between the two spouses. Id. § 6013(d)(3) (1994). On the basis of the couple's 1992 tax returns, the trial court concluded all the couple's income taxes were attributable to the decedent's distributed IRA income, and the widow had no income of her own. We conclude the trial court did not clearly err in charging the estate for the couple's joint income tax liability.
Van Den Boom also argues the trial court improperly ordered the estate to reimburse the widow for the property taxes and insurance premiums she paid on the homestead during the period between her husband's death and the conclusion of probate proceedings. We agree. Generally, a personal representative must take control of a deceased's real property, and is required to pay taxes on it and take any other steps necessary to manage, protect and preserve the property. Minn. Stat. § 524.3-709 (1996). However, when a surviving spouse maintains a homestead right in the premises and enjoys the use and occupation of the residence, the duty to pay property taxes falls upon the surviving spouse, and not upon the estate. 2 Minnesota Probate Law Digest § 23.38.F (James W. Forbess ed., 2d ed. 1993); see Nordlund v. Dahlgren (In re Estate of Walberg), 130 Minn. 462, 467, 153 N.W. 876, 878 (1915) (forbidding surviving spouse from charging homestead taxes and betterments to estate). This rule holds true even when the surviving spouse has yet to make a formal selection of the homestead or to be awarded the property by decree. See Wilson v. Proctor, 28 Minn. 13, 17, 8 N.W. 830, 832 (1881) (requiring widow to pay taxes on home not yet assigned to her by probate court); cf. In re Estate of Peterson, 365 N.W.2d 300, 302-03 (Minn. App. 1985) (concluding estate bore responsibility for paying taxes and insurance on homestead between decedent's death and conveyance of property to daughter, where daughter did not take possession until formal conveyance). Although the widow has not yet been formally awarded the homestead, she has enjoyed the possession and use of the residence since the decedent's death. Therefore, we conclude the trial court erred in reimbursing the widow's real estate taxes and property insurance premiums.
Van Den Boom next argues that, although the language of the decedent's will explicitly grants the widow a life estate in the homestead with a remainder interest in the four children, the trial court erred by refusing to grant the decedent's children fee simple in the homestead, subject to a life estate for the widow. See In re Estate of Murphy, 146 Minn. 418, 420-21, 179 N.W. 728, 729 (1920) (providing that, on death of intestate, title to homestead vests immediately in children, subject only to life estate in surviving spouse). However, we cannot say the trial court erred when its disposition of the property conformed precisely with the decedent's expressed intent. See First Nat'l Bank v. Kirschmann (In re Will of Schmidt), 256 Minn. 64, 89, 97 N.W.2d 441, 458 (1959) (stating court's primary duty in construing will is to ascertain and effectuate intention of testator). Furthermore, while Van Den Boom complains the personal representative may subject the homestead to sale, the trial court made no related findings or conclusions reviewable by this court. See State Fund Mut. Ins. Co. v. Enebo, 458 N.W.2d 161, 163 (Minn. App. 1990) (citing Thiele v. Stich, 425 N.W.2d 580, 582 (Minn. 1988), and limiting this court's review to issues considered and decided by trial court), review denied (Minn. Sept. 20, 1990).
Van Den Boom further argues the trial court abused its discretion in disallowing his attorney fees and costs. When the services of an attorney contribute to the benefit of an estate, as distinguished from the personal benefit of the individual retaining the attorney, the attorney is entitled to payment from the estate assets as the court deems reasonable and commensurate with the benefit to the estate. Minn. Stat. § 524.3-720. However, where legal services performed on behalf of an interested person do not inure to the benefit of the estate, no compensation is allowed. In re Estate of Baumgartner, 274 Minn. 337, 346, 144 N.W.2d 574, 579 (1966); see In re Estate of LeBrun, 458 N.W.2d 139, 145 (Minn. App. 1990) (denying beneficiary's request for attorney fees where beneficiary did not prevail on issues of value which would benefit estate). The trial court denied Van Den Boom's attorney fees, finding: (1) while Van Den Boom was acting pro se, he filed a motion setting forth 22 requests, most of which, if granted, would have "delay[ed] the closing of the estate indefinitely"; and (2) many of the factors that resulted in prolonging the administration of the estate were attributable to Van Den Boom. Furthermore, Van Den Boom's efforts on behalf of the estate recovered only $789.15 in disallowed medical bill reimbursements, $3,500 in disallowed real estate taxes and insurance premiums, and a two-wheeled trailer. In light of the expense Van Den Boom added to the estate's administration and the relatively insignificant benefit he contributed to the estate, the trial court's denial of his claim for $14,000 in attorney fees does not constitute an abuse of discretion.
Affirmed in part and reversed in part.