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Court Hears Estate Litigation Matter Over Legal Fees


This is a case of appeal being heard in the Supreme Court, Appellate Division, and Second Department. This proceeding is to settle the account of a co-executor of an estate. The co-executor and the law firm are appealing an order that was made in the Surrogate’s Court of Queens County. The order reduced the amount of legal fees as requested by the law firm and directed the law firm to reimburse the estate for the legal fees they had received in excess.

Case Background

The decedent passed away on the 14th of March, 1984. The will left behind by the decedent named one beneficiary of the estate and he was also named as the co-executor of the estate. The estate had an estimated value of $363,000. The other co-executor of the estate was the attorney/draftsman of the will. He was also a subscribing witness and supervisor in the execution of the will.

Upon the death of the decedent, the co-executor and benefactor contacted the law firm and a petition was filed for probate. A petition for preliminary letters testamentary was filed as well. The decedent’s sister contested both of these applications.

An accounting was filed in December of 1986 by the appellants. A New York Probate Lawyer said there is an administrative rule that requires the accounting of an estate be filed within one year of a fiduciary being named when the fiduciary is also an attorney. The papers were provided at which time the Surrogates Court ordered a hearing to determine the reasonableness of the legal fees involved in the case.

During the hearing the appellant testified that he had entered three separate agreements regarding legal fees. When the decedent’s sister indicated that she was going to contest the will the firm estimated legal fees would amount to $20,000 plus commissions.

The firm later agreed to a contingency fee arrangement, but agreed that their precise terms be met including a percentage of recovery to be determined after the matter was finalized. An agreement was entered where the agreed upon legal fees were found to be $67,500.

Case Discussion and Decision

Manhattan Probate Lawyers said the Surrogates Court found that the amount of $67,500 was excessive. Considering the firm did not even keep track of the number of hours that they worked dealing with matters of the estate. The Surrogates Court used their discretion to determine that legal fees for one of the firms involved would be in the amount of $10,000 as a fair and reasonable amount. The other law firm would be paid in the amount of $7500.

The appellants contend that the Surrogate’s court overstepped their bounds in lowering the amount of their fees as they had an agreement with the estate. However, Bronx Probate Lawyers said the surrogate’s court has the discretion to determine a fair and reasonable amount in regard to legal fees charged to any estate. The order is affirmed with costs paid to be paid by the appellants. The appellants will repay the estate in the amount given by the previous order and supply a receipt to the court to show the estate has been repaid.

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