Duff-Esformes v. Mukamal

Interested Person Properly Challenges Estate Administration Expenses

Duff-Esformes v. Mukamal, 332 So. 3d 17 (Fla. 3d DCA 2021)

The appellant in this case, Elizabeth Ann Duff-Esformes, was the Decedent’s surviving spouse, one of two beneficiaries of the Decedent’s estate.  The other beneficiary was the residual beneficiary, the Nathan J. Esformes Living Trust, to which the appellant was the sole beneficiary as well.  The trial court entered an agreed order on her final distribution, keeping a reserve of $50,000 for additional estate administration expenses.  Subsequently, the co-personal representatives, Barry Mukamal and David Appel (who also served as co-trustees of the trust), filed a petition seeking approval of additional expenses, including legal and other professional fees, to which the surviving spouse objected, based on the reasonableness of the charges.

The co-personal representatives alleged that the surviving spouse lacked standing, because she had already received her final distribution from the estate, and the trial court agreed.  After two hearings on the matter, the trial court denied the surviving spouse’s objections and entered an order granting the petition and approving the payment of those additional expenses and fees, which was in excess of $100,000. 

On review, the appellate court analyzed Fla. Stat. 733.6171(5), allowing objections to administration expenses to be filed by any interested person in an estate.  An interested person is one who may be reasonably expected to be affected by the outcome of the particular proceeding, see Fla. Stat. 733.201(23).

Section 733.6171(5), which governs the compensation of attorneys for a personal representative, provides:

(5) Upon petition of any interested person, the court may increase or decrease the compensation for ordinary services of the attorney or award compensation for extraordinary services if the facts and circumstances of the particular administration warrant.

Given that the surviving spouse was the sole beneficiary of the trust as well, the appellate court reasoned that the surviving spouse did have standing to object to the expenses because, if awarded, it would reduce the amount of the trust.  Therefore, the trial court was reversed, and the case was remanded to the trial court to hold a hearing and consider the surviving spouse’s objections.

Should you be faced with a request for payment of estate administration expenses, including fees to be paid to attorneys for the personal representative(s), it is wise to have the request reviewed by your trusted probate lawyer