Unsubstantiated Guardian Reimbursement Denied

Elder Law Answers case summary.The Supreme Court of Montana holds that the district court correctly denied a guardian’s reimbursement claim for lack of supporting documentation. In the Matter of the Estate of Rebekah Grace Barsotti (Mont. DA 23-0300, March 12, 2024).

Rebekah Barsotti disappeared. Her husband, David Barsotti, had a past acquitted domestic violence charge, and her mother, Angela Mastrovito, suspected him of her disappearance. Though the police presumed that Ms. Barsotti was dead, her mother maintained hope that she was alive.

After Ms. Barsotti’s disappearance, her husband became the conservator of her estate. Motivated by her desire to investigate, her mother petitioned to become the guardian of her estate. The court appointed Ms. Mastrovito as her daughter’s full guardian.

Several months into the guardianship, Ms. Mastrovito sued her son-in-law for verbal assault. Meanwhile, she raised money for domestic violence advocacy.

Ms. Barsotti’s body was found, and the cause of death was drowning. The court appointed Mr. Barsotti as the personal representative of his wife’s estate.

Ms. Mastrovito filed a creditor’s claim seeking more than $140,000 in compensation from the estate for her services as a guardian. She included a list of claimed costs, including domestic violence advocacy activities. The list was devoid of dates, receipts, or other documentation, and it did not specify whether her fundraising went to cover any of these costs.

As the personal representative, Mr. Barsotti opposed the petition. Even though the district court allowed her to clarify the expenses, Ms. Mastrovito declined to provide more supporting information.

Rejecting the reimbursement claim, the district court determined that the appointment of a guardian was retroactively improper because the ward was dead. It also found that many of the listed expenses were unreasonable. For instance, advocacy expenses did not directly benefit the ward. Finally, the district court reasoned that it could not accept the claim because it lacked supporting details, with no dates, specific itemization, or explanations.

The Supreme Court of Montana reviews whether the district court erred by denying the reimbursement claim.

The mother argued that her appointment as guardian was proper because her daughter had not yet been found dead. She also asserted that the district court erred by denying her a Rule 16 scheduling conference, depriving her of her right to a hearing.

Ms. Mastrovito maintained that Montana law allows guardianship over a missing person, and, under Montana law, finding the ward dead does not void the guardianship. However, the court does not need to address that issue. Even if the guardianship was valid, the expense report was insufficient. A guardian’s only allowed actions are to promote and protect the ward’s well-being. Expenses must be reasonable and frugal.

The expense report the mother submitted contained immoderate amounts with generalized descriptions, such as more than $22,000 for meals and travel. This suggests unreasonable expenses.

Because the court could not determine the validity of her claim without more evidence, the district court did not err in denying it.

The highest court of Montana also finds that the lower court did not violate Ms. Mastrovito’s right to a hearing. The district court gave her the opportunity to provide more information, but she did not. A hearing would have been necessary only if she had given the court more evidence.

The Montana Supreme Court affirms the district court’s denial of the reimbursement claim as unsupported.

Read the full opinion.