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In re Estate of Shanahan

Court of Appeals of Iowa

October 24, 2018

IN THE MATTER OF THE ESTATE OF JOHN PATRICK SHANAHAN, ROBERT JOSEPH SHANAHAN, Executor of the John Patrick Shanahan, Estate/Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Dubuque County, Monica L. Wittig, Judge.

         The executor of an estate appeals the district court's order denying his attorney's request for extraordinary fees.

          James E. Goodman, Jr. and McKenzie R. Hill of O'Connor & Thomas, PC, Dubuque, for appellant.

          Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Doyle and Mullins, JJ.

          VAITHESWARAN, Presiding Judge.

         The executor of the estate of John P. Shanahan appeals a district court order denying his attorney's request for extraordinary fees.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         John Shanahan died, leaving a small estate to be distributed under the terms of his will. His will was admitted to probate, and his brother Robert Shanahan served as executor of the estate. The estate's value, after deducting life insurance proceeds, was $66, 732. John's home comprised the largest asset.

         The executor's attorney facilitated the sale of the home and resolved claims for payment of the mortgage and an outstanding credit card debt. He filed an attorney-fee application with the district court requesting ordinary attorney fees of $1454.50. He also requested extraordinary fees of $2575 on the ground that he "performed extraordinary services regarding the sale of the real estate and resolution of the [outstanding] claims . . . and the preparation of fiduciary income tax returns." The two beneficiaries of John's estate waived their right to a hearing and consented to the extraordinary-fee request.

         The district court approved the request for ordinary fees but denied the request for extraordinary fees. The executor appealed.

         II. Denial of Extraordinary Fees

         The executor argues (A) "[t]he plain language of Iowa Code § 633.199 [(2017)] necessitates an award of extraordinary attorney's fees," (B) "[t]he extraordinary services provided . . . genuinely benefited the Estate," and (C) "[c]ounsel for the Estate is experienced, highly competent, and handled the Estate with efficiency." We will address these arguments together.

         Iowa Code section 633.199[1] authorizes payment of extraordinary fees "for actual necessary and extraordinary expenses and services." The provision uses permissive rather than mandatory language, stating "further allowances as are just and reasonable may be made by the court." Iowa Code § 633.199 (emphasis added). Under the plain language of section 633.199, the district court was not required to award extraordinary fees.

         That said, we are not persuaded by the district court's rationale for denying the extraordinary-fee request. The court stated, "[M]ost of this small estate was passed through beneficiary designation i.e. life insurance." Although life insurance proceeds were used to pay off the ...


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