The Minnesota Supreme Court issued a decision today in the case of In re Guardianship and Conservatorship of Helen Louise Durand, A13-1415 (Minn. February 18, 2015). It affirmed the Minnesota Court of Appeals, holding that Minn. Stat. 524.2-212 (2014), which treates protected and non-protected persons differently in probate proceedings, has a rational basis and therefore does not violate the right to equal protection under the Minnesota Constitution.
The case has a lengthy procedural history. Essentially it involved the Conservator for a Spouse petitioning the District Court to allow an elective share petition to be filed with the probate court, so that the spouse could elect against the estate of her deceased spouse. The personal representative of the estate of the deceased spouse disagreed that the petition was properly brought. At the District Court level the court granted the conservator’s motion for summary judgment, on the basis that requiring the conservator to petition for approval to bring an elective share petition violated the constitution’s equal protection law. The Court of Appeals disagreed that the equal protection laws were violated and reversed. In the opinion today, the Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed.
Minn. Stat. 524.2-212 is the statute that declares the elective share to be personal to the surviving spouse. It differentiates between surviving spouses who are “protected” (under conservatorship) and those who are not. As to those under conservatorship, a petition must be filed with the probate court and a showing made as to why the election is necessary and appropriate. The Minnesota Supreme Court applied the rational basis test and determined that this statute is constitutional because there is a rational basis for treating surviving spouses who are under conservatorship differently from those who are not. The Court reasoned that because individuals under conservatorship are impaired in their ability to manage property and business affairs, this is a substantial and genuine basis for the legislature to justify a distinction focused on the protected persons’ needs. The Court stated, “the Legislature rationally determined that a conservator, whose duty is to manage the pecuniary affairs of a protected person, should not have the unilateral power to make a decision that should be based on both pecuniary and non-pecuniary interests. The Legislature rationally provided that the process should include judicial oversight by findings and an order.”