Hernandez v. Hernandez

Hernandez v. Hernandez, --- So.3d --- (Fla. 3d DCA 2017)

In guardianship cases, the probate court has discretion to determine who is an "interested person" in a particular proceeding based on the particular purpose of, and the matter involved in, that proceeding. In this proceeding relating to the payment of attorney's fees from a Ward's assets, the Ward's son alleged that he had standing as an interested person to object to the payment of those fees.  

The attorney's fees being sought in this case generated from the following proceedings:
(1) After one of the Ward's sons allegedly mistreated her, her other son petitioned to be appointed as her plenary guardian, to which the first son objected.
(2) Once the second son was appointed as plenary guardian for his mother, he engaged in an adversary proceeding against the first brother and his family for mistreating the mother.
(3) The second son, as guardian, petitioned to sell the Ward's property to pay for her care, to which the first son objected.

The first son did not receive notice of the petitions for fees.  Nonetheless, the probate court approved the petitions for fees, and denied the first son's objections to those orders, finding that he was not an "interested person" entitled to notice of these petitions with standing to object.  The first son appealed, arguing that he was an an interested person in this proceeding because he was an active participant in the guardianship and filed a request for copies under FPR 5.060.

The Court disagreed.  It noted that F.S. 744.108 provides that a petition for fees cannot be approved without prior notice to the guardian and the ward.  The Florida Supreme Court in Hayes v. Guardianship of Thompson, 952 So.2d 498 (Fla. 2006) considered whether the language of F.S. 744.108 limited standing to only the guardian and the ward, and held that the determination of who is an "interested person" in a particular guardianship proceeding varied from time to time and must be determined according to the particular purpose of, and the matter involved in, the proceeding.  Simply being next of kin does not confer "interested person" status, nor does filing a notice and request for copies under FPR 5.060 and being an active participant in the proceedings.  

Ultimately, the Court held that Chapter 744 and the Hayes decision allow the probate court to strike a balance between ensuring that petitions for attorney's fees are carefully scrutinized and ensuring that these petitions are not subject to endless challenges by those whose only interest is to maximize their potential inheritance, and that the probate court had properly balanced the two in finding that the son lacked standing to object. It emphasized that a petitioners' involvement in guardianship proceedings that were necessitated by their own mistreatment of the ward and misappropriation of the ward's funds does not entitle them to then participate in proceedings involving requests for attorney's fees.

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