Iowa Court of Appeals Denies Request for Attorney Fees in Guardianship Proceeding
On June 16, 2021, the Iowa Court of Appeals released an opinion involving two sisters’ request for attorney fees incurred during their father’s guardianship and conservatorship proceedings. The guardians repeatedly objected to the sisters’ participation while the district court found that the sisters did not have standing to intervene. Therefore, the Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of their request for fees. The case provides a helpful overview of when attorney fees are properly awarded in a guardianship or conservatorship proceeding.
Joseph Kintzle, with nearly $6.5 million in assets, applied for a voluntary guardianship and conservatorship in 2018. He requested that two of his daughters, Jody and Vicki, be named as the guardians and conservators (guardians). The court granted his petition.[i]
Two of his other daughters, Lori and Lisa, filed a “notice of appeal,” alleging that Joseph did not have the mental capacity to enter into a guardianship and conservatorship. They asked the court to remove their siblings and make them the guardians. Jody and Vicki objected, and the Court denied the request, finding that Lori and Lisa did not have standing.
Lori and Lisa then filed several petitions attempting to intervene, requesting that an attorney be appointed for Joseph, and requesting that the guardians be removed and a third party appointed. Each time, the guardians resisted. The district court denied the motions to intervene and remove the guardians, but did grant the motion to appoint an attorney for Joseph. Lori and Lisa, claiming to have acted on their father’s behalf, then requested that the conservatorship pay their $12,607 in attorney fees under Iowa Code § 633.551(5). Both Joseph and the guardians objected to the motion. Noting that the motion to intervene was denied, the district court denied the application.
Attorney Fees in Establishing a Guardianship or Conservatorship
On appeal, Lori and Lisa claimed that they were entitled to attorney fees because they assisted Joseph in obtaining court appointed counsel and ensuring there was an accounting of his assets.
…in proceedings to establish a guardianship or conservatorship, the costs, including attorney fees, court visitor fees, and expert witness fees, shall be assessed against the respondent or the respondent’s estate unless the proceeding is dismissed either voluntarily or involuntarily, in which case fees and costs may be assessed against the petitioner for good cause shown.
Iowa Code § 633.551(5). The Iowa Court of Appeals has awarded attorney fees to a party who successfully intervened in a guardianship proceeding, but did not specifically request the guardianship. In re Guardianship of Norelius (Norelius III), No. 19-1494, (Iowa Ct. App. Mar. 4, 2020). Recently, the Court of Appeals also awarded attorney fees to a party who “properly participated in the case because none of the other parties objected.” In re Conservatorship of Haravon, No. 20-0501, 2021 WL 1400773, at *4 (Iowa Ct. App. Apr. 14, 2021).
In this case, the court ruled that Lori and Lisa did not successfully intervene. Additionally, the guardians objected to Lori and Lisa’s participation in the proceedings. The court thus affirmed that Lori and Lisa were not entitled to attorney fees. Furthermore, because the two were not entitled to trial attorney fees, the court denied their additional request for appellate attorney fees.
[i] In 2019, the Iowa legislature appealed Iowa Code sections 633.557 and 633.572 which allowed the voluntary appointment of a guardian or conservator. See 2019 Iowa Acts ch. 57, §§ 14, 41
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