IN THE MATTER OF EVAN O. KOLLER
Mark Koller, Appellee. Kathryn Prounis, Appellant,
District Court, Logan Department The Honorable Brandon J.
Maynard No. 073100106
Matthew N. Evans and Matthew M. Cannon, Attorneys for
K. Tracy, Robert S. Tippett, James C. Dunkelberger, and
Trevor M. Crowley, Attorneys for Appellee
Gregory K. Orme authored this Opinion, in which Judges Kate
A. Toomey and David N. Mortensen concurred.
After several years of litigating with her siblings,
Appellant Kathryn Prounis successfully moved to have herself
appointed as permanent guardian of her ailing father, Evan O.
Koller, and permanent co-conservator of his considerable
estate. Upon his death, Kathryn moved for the first time to
charge her father's estate for her services. Her siblings
opposed her motion, arguing, among other things, that she was
equitably estopped from claiming compensation due to her many
representations made during and after her father's life
that she would serve "on a pro bono
basis." The district court agreed with Kathryn's
siblings and denied the motion. Kathryn now appeals that
decision. We affirm.
This family dispute blossomed into litigation in October
2007, when Kathryn filed an objection to her siblings'
petition to appoint a guardian and conservator for Evan.
Altogether, Kathryn has five siblings: her three sisters are
LuAnn, Kayleen, and Julie; her two brothers are Dan and
Appellee Mark Koller.
Kathryn reached an agreement with her siblings in June 2008,
stipulating to the appointment of both a professional
guardian and professional conservator on the condition that
she and Dan be appointed co-conservators. The district court
then found Evan to be an incapacitated person and appointed
Eldercare Consult, Inc. and Stagg Eldercare Services as
guardian and conservator, respectively. Both companies
resigned from their appointments within a year, however,
citing excessive interference from the co-conservators.
Following the fiduciary companies' resignations, Julie
and Kayleen petitioned the court to appoint an emergency
temporary guardian for Evan. In their petition, they argued
that the guardian should be a professional "because
there is presently no one with authority to provide health
care directions to the in-home care providers or to make
decisions regarding health and medical care." They
further alleged that the in-home providers were
"receiving conflicting directions from various children
of [Evan]." Kathryn objected to her sisters'
petition on the ground that the court "intended for the
Co-Conservators to assume certain of the responsibilities
that were performed by Evan Koller's previous
Guardian." She further represented that, until the court
reached a decision on the matter, she would be willing to
serve as an interim guardian "indefinitely and without
The district court sided in this instance with Kathryn,
appointing her as temporary guardian as well as temporary
co-conservator with Dan. Soon after, in a motion joined by
Dan, Kathryn urged the court to set aside the siblings'
stipulation and make her appointments permanent, representing
that she had "been diligently performing [her] duties .
. . for no compensation."
The court held a hearing in August 2009 on the issue of
appointing a permanent guardian and conservator. At the
hearing, Julie and Kayleen once again argued for the
appointment of a professional fiduciary, maintaining that the
appointment was necessary to ensure the siblings'
in-fighting did not interfere with their father's care.
Kathryn responded by arguing that a professional fiduciary
would be an unjustifiable drain on Evan's estate and that
she "ha[d] been doing the guardianship voluntarily and
ha[d] been saving [the estate] a substantial amount of
money" by doing the work herself. Evan's attorney
and Dan agreed with Kathryn, emphasizing that they, too,
wished to avoid "depleting the estate" and stating
that Kathryn "deserved a medal" for
"dramatically reduc[ing] the drain on the estate."
Finally, Mark did not object to Kathryn's receiving the
appointments, but he did ask the court to appoint two other
siblings as co-guardians and one additional co-conservator to
counterbalance Kathryn's sway over Evan.
"Greatly influenced" by her representations that
she would serve without compensation, the court granted
Kathryn permanent guardianship over Evan and, with Dan,
permanent co-conservatorship. Kathryn and Dan held these
positions on an uninterrupted basis until Evan passed away in
April 2014, a period of just under five years. Although
Kathryn's siblings did not divest her of her appointments
during Evan's life, it was not for lack of trying. On the
contrary, her siblings filed numerous motions and objections
alleging that Kathryn was mismanaging the assets of the
estate and taking affirmative steps to isolate them from
Throughout her tenure as permanent guardian and
co-conservator, Kathryn's siblings frequently expressed
concern that she was paying herself and her attorney from the
funds of the estate. Yet Kathryn adhered firmly to the
position that she was working without compensation, insisting
that any money she was taking from the estate was limited to
reimbursement of her out-of-pocket expenditures on Evan's
behalf. Consistent with these representations, Kathryn did
not include a request for compensation in the final
guardian's or conservators' reports upon Evan's
Dan, on the other hand, occasionally vacillated on the issue
of compensation. At the hearing on the issue of appointing a
permanent guardian and conservator, his counsel represented
that, while serving as temporary co-conservator with Kathryn,
Dan had not been "depleting the estate." But at a
February 2012 hearing held in connection with the
co-conservators' annual accounting, Dan took the position
that he had never agreed to forgo payment altogether; on the
contrary, he intended to enter a request for "reasonable
compensation . . . in the not too distant future." And
indeed, Dan did include a request for compensation in the
final conservators' report, which he and Kathryn jointly
filed in October 2014. As none of the siblings opposed
Dan's request, the court granted it.
Several months after the final guardian's and
conservators' reports had been filed, Kathryn surprised
her siblings with a motion for compensation, wherein she
requested over $475, 000 for the services she performed
between March 2009 and April 2014. While LuAnn stipulated to
Kathryn's request, Dan, Julie, Kayleen, and Mark all
objected to it, maintaining, among other things, that Kathryn
was estopped from making it due to her many representations
that she would serve without compensation. Kathryn filed a
reply memorandum in which she largely ignored her
siblings' estoppel argument, instead making several
statutory arguments. At no point did any party request an
evidentiary hearing on the motion.
The district court held a hearing on Kathryn's motion on
June 4, 2015. At the hearing, Kathryn maintained she had
never taken the position that she did not expect to be
compensated for her services at some point. Rather, she
argued, the only reasonable interpretation of her previous
representations is that she did not intend to seek
compensation during Evan's life. She explained that, in
postponing her request, her aim was to ensure that the estate
had sufficient funds to provide for Evan's care while he
lived. But the court was unconvinced. It found instead that
Kathryn had "made numerous representations to the Court
and the parties that she would serve as guardian and
conservator without compensation, " and, further, that
her siblings had only supported her appointments because of
these representations. Accordingly, it ruled that Kathryn was
equitably estopped from seeking compensation for her services
as guardian and co-conservator.
Following the court's ruling, Kathryn filed a motion to
reconsider. The court denied her motion, explaining that
Kathryn had "not cite[d] an applicable rule of civil
procedure to support her motion" and that, in any case,
her arguments were "substantively identical to those
previously considered and rejected at the June 4, 2015
hearing." This appeal followed.
Kathryn raises four issues for our review. First, Kathryn
argues that the district court erred in failing to hold an
evidentiary hearing on the issue of equitable estoppel.
Second, she argues that the district court erred in
concluding she was equitably estopped from requesting
compensation for her services as guardian and co-conservator.
Third, she argues that the district court's decision to
deny her compensation for her services was grounded in a
misapplication of the Utah Uniform Probate Code. And fourth,
she argues that the district court "improperly
discriminate[d] against [her] by denying her any compensation
while granting compensation to her brother."
Court's Failure to Hold ...