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Estate Attorneys Battle Over Fees


This is a matter being heard in the Surrogate’s Court of Queens County. This is a contested probate proceeding in regard to the judicial settlement of the executor’s account, which was tried by the Court without a jury.

Case Background

The decedent of the estate died in September of 1981 and left behind a fairly modest estate. The estate consisted of $33,000 in personal property along with a house and a lot located in Queens County that was valued at $140,000. The decedent left behind a handwritten will that reads as more of a love letter to her estranged grandchildren. The will was admitted for probate in October of 1981. The terms of the will left the entire estate to her four grandchildren to be divided equally, with several small bequests to others.

Normally an estate such as this that presents with no real legal problems should have been administrated and distributed in short order. However, the probate of this estate did not proceed. Over the past three years the estate has been involved in constant litigation within this court, as well as in the Supreme Court, the Appellate Division, and the Federal District and Circuit Court of Appeals. The estate is still not settled.

A New York Probate Lawyer said the protracted litigation in this matter has not come from a disagreement between the beneficiaries, but rather has been initiated by the attorney for the executors. The attorney has ground this estate to a halt and has exacerbated the relationship between the beneficiaries and the fiduciaries. One of the main issues of the case was the rejected claim for legal fees by this particular attorney.

As stated, the will was admitted with the consent of all of the interested parties. The residuary legatees have made it quite clear that they do not want to sell the decedent’s real property, but wanted to retain the title of the property as it was passed to them.

The executors, on advice from their counsel has demanded that possession of the home be returned and have insisted that they have the right to sell the property. Long Island Probate Lawyers said the petition submitted was not entertained by the court as the court stated it was not within the purview of SCPA.

Further litigation in the case has resulted from this particular matter.

Case Discussion and Decision

The main issue that is holding up the probate of this estate is the attorney for the executors of the estate. The attorney has now been replaced after contacting the executors and telling them that they better get a new attorney or they were going to end up in jail. The original attorney then made a claim for $81,000 in legal fees.

In regard to these fees the court finds that a more reasonable fee of $1000 should be issued. As the attorney has been paid $2500 already he is directed to return $1500 of this amount to the estate.

Additional objections have been filed in this case and several of them are now being withdrawn. Queens Probate Attorneys said the court is settling the accounting matters in regard to the attorney, the home will not be sold, and the benefactors will remain in control of their portion.

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