February 14, 2013
Authored by: Luke Lantta
James R. Franta named Roberta Peery as the personal representative of his estate. But a Minnesota district court determined that she was “unsuitable” for appointment under the Uniform Probate Code. In In re Estate of James R. Franta, the Minnesota Court of Appeals agreed. Why wouldn’t these courts uphold the decedent’s intent?
The Uniform Probate Code governs the appointment of personal representatives in Minnesota, and it gives the highest priority for appointment of a personal representative to the person nominated by a power conferred in a will. So, Peery had the highest priority for appointment.
However, no person whom the court finds “unsuitable” may serve as a personal representative. The Uniform Probate Code doesn’t define unsuitability because unsuitability does not have a fixed and inflexible meaning. In other words, suitability is taken case by case.
The district court found Peery unsuitable because:
(1) she had no experience as a fiduciary (which would probably disqualify most individuals named in a will);
(2) she failed to pay expenses of the estate for at least the first six months after Franta died;
(3) she made false allegations that someone possessed or destroyed the original codicil to Franta’s will; and
(4) she lacked the “temperament” and “prudence” required to administer the estate (whatever that means).
The appellate court noted that two of these district court findings alone supported a determination that Peery was unsuitable: lack of experience and lack of temperament and prudence.