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Court Determines Legal Fees in Probate Case

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 Hempstead, on June 21, 1993, leaving one daughter, surviving. Limited letters of administration were issued to the Public Administrator on September 10, 1998 and modified on January 11, 2007 to enable the Public Administrator to collect the surplus money resulting from a foreclosure sale of decedent’s real property.

A Nassau Estate Litigation Lawyer said that, the account filed by the Public Administrator shows the receipt of $17,670.16 of estate principal, which was supplemented by income collected totaling $208.50. This resulted in total charges of $17,878.66. This amount was reduced by administrative expenses through September 30, 2009 in the amount of $2,946.75, leaving a balance of $14,931.91 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 Nassau County Department of Social Services in full satisfaction of its claim in the amount of $177,020.06 against the decedent’s estate. In addition, the court must release the administrator from the surety bond.
The issue in this case is whether the attorney’s fee should be granted by the court.

A New York Will Lawyer said 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. 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 in Matter of Potts, and as re-enunciated in Matter of Freeman. Also, the legal fee must bear a reasonable relationship to the size of the estate. A 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.

Westchester County Probate Lawyers said the Public Administrator has petitioned the court for approval of the payment of $2,798.75 to the attorney for the Public Administrator in connection with the administration of the estate. This amount has been paid in full. 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 51 hours to this matter through August 2009. The services provided by the attorney included preparing and filing a petition for removal of limitations on letters of administration and accompanying affidavits; commencing a surplus money proceeding in Nassau County Supreme Court; participating in multiple telephone conferences with a foreclosure referee; collecting surplus funds from the Nassau County Treasurer; and reviewing information concerning the identity and whereabouts of decedent’s distributees. In addition, the attorney for the Public Administrator prepared the final account and the accompanying documentation. In view of the exiguous balance that would remain if the attorney were to bill for the full amount of services provided, which would amount to $8,971.25, the attorney has offered to accept as a total fee the amount paid to date, $2,798.75. The court commends the attorney for his skillful representation of the Public Administrator and for voluntarily reducing his fee by $6,172.50, a reduction of 69%. The fee is approved in the amount requested.

Suffolk County Probate Lawyers said the court has also been asked to review the accountant’s fees. Typically, an accountant’s services are not compensable from estate 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 $575.00 for preparation of the estate’s final return. The work to be performed by the accountant is 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 $575.00, all of which remains unpaid.

The commission of the administrator 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 Nassau County Department of Social Services.

If you have issues regarding the accounting fees of the estate, seek the help of a Nassau Estate Attorney and Nassau Probate Attorney at Stephen Bilkis and Associates.

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