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Court Decides if the Account of the Public Administrator Should be Granted

A New York Probate Lawyer said that, before the court is the first and final account of the Public Administrator for the estate of the decedent, who died intestate, a resident of Uniondale, on December 26, 1998. Decedent left a will dated June 15, 1979 which bequeathed her entire residuary estate to her nephew, who post-deceased the decedent. The Public Administrator was appointed temporary administrator of the estate on April 14, 2005. Decedent’s will was admitted to probate by a decree of this court dated May 11, 2010 and letters of administration c.t.a. were issued to the Public Administrator on that date. The account of the Public Administrator was initially filed on July 6, 2010.
A Nassau Probate Lawyer said that, the account filed by the Public Administrator shows the receipt of $87,102.28 of estate principal, which was supplemented by income collected totaling $4,935.98. This resulted in total charges of $92,038.26. This amount was reduced by administrative expenses through April 30, 2010 in the amount of $68,155.17, leaving a balance of $23,883.09 on hand. The Public Administrator seeks approval of the accounting, approval of commissions, the fixing of fees for the services of the attorney and accountant, and authorization to distribute the net estate to the court appointed administrator of the estate of the decedent’s nephew. In addition, the court must release the administrator from the surety bond.

The issue in this case is whether the account of the Public Administrator should be granted.

The court in deciding the case said that, regarding the fee of the attorney for the estate, the court bears the ultimate responsibility for approving legal fees that are charged to an estate and has the discretion to determine what constitutes reasonable compensation for legal services rendered in the course of an estate administration. A New York Will Lawyer said that while there is no hard and fast rule to calculate reasonable compensation to an attorney in every case, the Surrogate is required to exercise his or her authority “with reason, proper discretion and not arbitrarily”.

In evaluating the cost of legal services, the court may consider a number of factors. These include: the time spent; the complexity of the questions involved; the nature of the services provided; the amount of litigation required; the amounts involved and the benefit resulting from the execution of such services; the lawyer’s experience and reputation; and the customary fee charged by the Bar for similar services. In discharging this duty to review fees, the court cannot apply a selected few factors which might be more favorable to one position or another but must strike a balance by considering all of the elements set forth. Also, the legal fee must bear a reasonable relationship to the size of the estate. A Westchester County Probate Lawyer said that sizeable estate permits adequate compensation, but nothing beyond that. Moreover, the size of the estate can operate as a limitation on the fees payable, without constituting an adverse reflection on the services provided. The burden with respect to establishing the reasonable value of legal services performed rests on the attorney performing those services.

The Public Administrator has petitioned the court for approval of the payment of $13,410.50 to the attorney for the Public Administrator in connection with the administration of the estate. The court has carefully reviewed the affirmation of services and the time records submitted to the court.

Contemporaneous records of legal time spent on estate matters are important to the court in determining whether the amount of time spent was reasonable for the various tasks performed. The record shows that the attorney devoted more than 156 hours to this matter. The legal services required by this estate were unusually extensive, and the summary of the legal work provided by the attorney fills more than two full pages. The services include, but are not limited to, reviewing the administration citation received as a result of an administration proceeding filed by the Nassau County Department of Social Services; participating in multiple conferences concerning the claim for Medicaid reimbursement; preparing and filing the Public Administrator’s oath and designation; obtaining the fiduciary bond; corresponding with and serving papers upon the occupants of decedent’s home, including a petition to recover possession of real property and an order to show cause; negotiating and preparing a settlement agreement in connection with the eviction proceeding; preparing a judgment of possession, warrant of eviction and decree awarding possession of real property; preparing and filing the petition to extend temporary letters of administration; investigating the decedent’s family relationships and alleged distributees; preparing and filing the petition for probate and all related documents; preparing and filing a petition to reduce the administrator’s bond together with an interim account and proposed order; preparing and filing an affidavit of assets and liabilities; researching the heirs of decedent’s post-deceased sole legatee and preparing and filing affidavits of due diligence; preparing the final account and all related papers; reviewing the report of the guardian ad litem appointed in connection with the probate of decedent’s will; and participating in multiple conferences with the Public Administrator and his staff. In addition, the firm expects that additional fees totaling approximately $2,500.00 will be incurred through the closing and distribution of the estate. The attorney also represented the Public Administrator in the sale of decedent’s real property, for which the firm was paid a flat fee of $1,500.00.

As of June 24, 2010, the billable fees totaled $30,633.63, exclusive of the real estate fee, of which $13,402.50 has been paid and $17,231.13 remains unpaid, and the firm expects that the estate administration will incur additional charges of $2,500.00. In view of the modest size of the estate, the attorney has offered to accept as a total fee the amount paid to date, $13,402.50, in addition to the real estate fee of $1,500.00. Suffolk County Probate Attorneys said the court commends the attorney for his skillful representation of the Public Administrator and the voluntary reduction of his fee. The fee is approved in the amount requested, all of which has been paid.

The court has also been asked to review the accountant’s fees. Typically, an accountant’s services are not compensable from estate administration assets unless there exist unusual circumstances that require the expertise of an accountant. The fee for such services is generally held to be included in the fee of the attorney for the fiduciary. The purpose of this rule is to avoid duplication.

“Where the legal fees do not include compensation for services rendered by the accountant, there is no duplication and the legal fee is not automatically reduced by the accounting fee”.

The accountant has submitted an affidavit of services requesting a fee of $1,950.00. The affidavit indicates that the accountant prepared the estate’s annual federal and state fiduciary income tax returns to date. The accountant further notes that a final return will be required. The work performed by the accountant was not duplicative of the services rendered by the estate attorney, and the requested amount for these services is reasonable. The court approves the fee in the amount of $1,950.00, of which $1,375.00 has been paid and $575.00 remains unpaid.

Accordingly, the court held that the commission of the administrator c.t.a. is approved subject to audit. The decree shall discharge the surety and shall authorize the Public Administrator to distribute the balance of the net estate to the court appointed administrator of the estate of the decedent’s nephew. Settle decree.

In evaluating the cost of legal services, the court may consider a number of factors. While there is no hard and fast rule to calculate reasonable compensation to an attorney in every case, the Surrogate is required to exercise his or her authority with reason, proper discretion and not arbitrarily. If the you think that the legal services of your attorney in a probate proceeding is inadequate or disproportional to the value of the estate, seek the representation of a Nassau Estate Administration Attorney and Nassau Probate Attorney at Stephen Bilkis and Associates. Call us.

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