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Court Says Larger Estate Doesnt Justify Larger Fees


A woman resident died on February 15, 2009, leaving a last will and testament dated June 28, 2007. She was survived by 19 statutory heirs, including four siblings and the 15 children of four predeceased siblings.

The last will and testament leaves all of the woman’s property in three equal shares, two of which pass to the woman’s sisters, the elder sister and younger sister. The will directs that the third equal share be paid over to the woman’s niece, who is the nominated executor and the petitioner. It makes no mention of the woman’s third surviving sister who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. A New York Probate Lawyer said waivers of citation were filed on behalf of 15 heirs, and jurisdiction was obtained over the remaining three interested parties, including the third sister. None of the heirs raised will contests. Preliminary letters were issued to the petitioner on May 19, 2009 and the letters have been extended upon application.

The court appointed guardian on behalf of the third sister is a guardian for incompetent persons. His report reflects that the probate estate was valued at approximately $570,000.00 and that there were non-testamentary assets of $292,000.00, including $200,000.00 held in joint accounts which named the petitioner as the joint tenant. The guardian ad litem also discovered that the petitioner had established the joint accounts using a power of attorney executed by the woman. He further learned that the last will had been prepared on the basis of telephoned instructions from the petitioner to an attorney, and that the will execution had not been supervised by an attorney. Additionally, based upon information uncovered by the guardian ad litem, which included medical records, serious questions were raised concerning the woman’s competency at the time the will was executed.

The guardian ad litem communicated his potential probate objections to the attorney for petitioner and they then negotiated a settlement. The stipulation provides that petitioner will pay $90,125.00 out of her own personal funds to the third sister; the last will and testament will be admitted to probate. Since the agreement has no effect on distributions to be made under the will, the consent of the other inheritors is unnecessary. Long Island Probate Lawyers said the guardian ad litem’s calculations reflect that the settlement amount payable to the third sister closely mirrors her intestate share of the woman’s probate and non-testamentary property, without consideration of the estate litigation expenses which would have been incurred by the estate had the matter not been successfully settled.

The court must also fix the fee of the guardian ad litem. Ultimate responsibility for approving legal fees that are charged to an estate lies with the court, which has the discretion to determine what constitutes reasonable compensation for legal services rendered in the course of the estate administration. This remains true even in the event that the parties have consented to the requested fee.

A sizeable estate permits adequate compensation, but nothing beyond that. A large estate does not, by itself, justify a large fee. Moreover, Nassau County Probate Lawyers said 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. Contemporaneous records of legal time spent on estate matters are important to the court in the determining whether the amount of time spent was reasonable for the various tasks performed. In the absence of contemporaneous time records, little weight is given to estimates of time after the services have been performed.

The fee is fixed in the amount requested by the guardian ad litem, $17,000.00, which shall be paid out of the general assets of the estate within 30 days of the issuance of full letters of administration to petitioner. The court thanks the guardian ad litem for his fine work and the outstanding result achieved on behalf of his ward.

When disputes over money arise, the family relationship suffers. To question the choice of one person implies that you do not trust the person. If you want to prove that a person assigned as executor is not capable of doing the job, call the Kings County Will Contest Attorneys and Kings County Estate Lawyers. Stephen Bilkis and Associates can also provide you with a Kings County Probate Lawyer to make sure that the document you have is the one to be implemented.

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