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In re Estate of Gonzalez.

2024 COA 63. No. 23CA1058. Probate—Compensation and Cost Recovery—Fee Disputes—Factors in Determining the Reasonableness of Compensation and Costs.

June 6, 2024

Father died intestate and was survived by his children, including Calderon and Villano. Villano petitioned for adjudication of intestacy and formal appointment of a personal representative (PR), seeking the appointment of herself and Calderon as co-PRs. Calderon objected to Villano being a PR, and Villano amended her petition and nominated a professional fiduciary as the PR. Following an evidentiary hearing, the district court found good cause to appoint a third-party neutral fiduciary to serve as the estate’s PR. Villano subsequently moved for reimbursement of her attorney fees and costs in the amount of $35,406.70 as a creditor’s claim under CRS § 15-12-805(1)(h), asserting that she benefited the estate by petitioning the court to appoint a neutral fiduciary. Calderon objected, but the court summarily granted Villano’s motion and ordered the estate to reimburse her for the full amount requested.

As an initial matter on appeal, Villano contended that the court of appeals lacked jurisdiction to review the attorney fees and costs order because it is not a final appealable order. A court order is final if it ends the action in which it is entered and leaves nothing further for the court to do to completely determine the parties’ rights in the proceeding. Here, the subject matter of Villano’s petition was a PR appointment, and the proceeding concluded with the court’s award of attorney fees and costs in a sum certain, which left no remaining claims. Therefore, the attorney fees and costs order is a final appealable order. Further, the finality of the order is not affected by CRS § 15-12-805(1), which provides that claims against a decedent’s estate must be paid by the PR in a certain order of priority, because the abatement process is overseen by the PR and affects only the enforcement, not the finality, of the court’s order.

On the merits, Calderon argued that the court erred by awarding Villano attorney fees and costs without following the statutory fee dispute procedure. Calderon asserted that the court deprived him of (1) his right to a hearing to dispute the reasonableness of the fees and costs under CRS § 15-10-604(4), and (2) his right to have the court make specific factual findings and conclusions of law in support of the reasonableness of the fees under CRS § 15-10-603(3). The plain language of CRS § 15-10-604(4) requires the court to hold a hearing before it compensates a person who provided a benefit to an estate when another interested person challenges the requested compensation. Accordingly, because Calderon objected to Villano’s requested compensation, the court reversibly erred when it awarded Villano her attorney fees and costs without first holding the statutorily mandated hearing. Further, in determining the reasonableness of the compensation amount, the court must consider the CRS § 15-10-603(3) factors and any other factor the court deems appropriate under the case circumstances; and it must issue an order that makes findings of fact and conclusions of law referencing the factors it relied on. Here, the court further erred in summarily granting Villano’s attorney fees and costs request because it made no findings on the reasonableness of the awarded compensation.

The court also denied Villano’s request for appellate attorney fees because Calderon’s appeal was not frivolous.

The order awarding Villano attorney fees and costs was reversed and the case was remanded for further proceedings.

The full opinion is available at

Official Colorado Court of Appeals proceedings can be found at the Colorado Court of Appeals website.

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