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Attorneys Fees Determined in Lengthy Probate Proceeding


A New York Probate Lawyer said iIn related probate and miscellaneous proceedings regarding the estate of the decedent, before the court is a proposed stipulation of settlement resolving the issues in both proceedings. Because the interests of the decedent’s infant son may be affected by the settlement, the approval of the court is required (SCPA 2106). The guardian ad litem appointed to represent the interests of the decedent’s infant son has filed his final report wherein he recommends that the court approve the settlement and authorize him to enter into it on behalf of his ward.

A Nassau County Probate lawyer said that the probate proceeding has been pending in the court for over three years and the miscellaneous proceeding, a discovery proceeding pursuant to SCPA 2103, has been pending nearly three years. The proposed settlement will end both disputes and provides for the infant son to receive a 10% interest in the decedent’s home, valued at approximately $1.5 million. The other 90% interest will be held by the child’s mother. A New York Will Lawyer said the stipulation of settlement is approved, the court being satisfied that the interests of the infant beneficiary and the other interested parties will be promoted by an end to the current litigation. The decedent’s will shall be admitted to probate in accordance with the terms of the stipulation of settlement.

Queens Probate Attorneys said the court must also fix a reasonable fee for the services of the guardian ad litem. The court notes that the stipulation of settlement provides that the fee of the guardian ad litem will be a charge against the general estate. With respect to the issue of attorneys’ fees, 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 a case. 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.

Long Island Probate Lawyers said 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 determining whether the amount of time spent was reasonable for the various tasks performed.

These factors apply equally to an attorney retained by a fiduciary or to a court-appointed guardian ad litem. Moreover, the nature of the role played by the guardian ad litem is an additional consideration in determining his or her fee. A sizeable estate permits adequate compensation, but nothing beyond that.

The court notes that the guardian ad litem has already received the sum of $23,447.20 for his services from the date of his appointment through December 2009. This current and final application seeks an award for his services from December 2009 through June 2011. The guardian ad litem avers that he spent over 90 hours on these proceedings during that period, which required his attendance at eight depositions as well as numerous court conferences and settlement negotiations.

The guardian ad litem also reviewed, among other things, the transcripts of the depositions; subpoenaed records; tax returns; and correspondence from counsel for the various parties involved. The court recognizes the excellent reputation which the guardian ad litem has earned in the legal community and that his presence and participation in these proceedings were instrumental in reaching the final settlement. However, the request by the guardian ad litem of an additional fee of $32,203.50 would bring his total compensation to a sum $55,650.70, which the court finds somewhat disproportionate to the result achieved for the ward. Accordingly, the court awards the guardian ad litem an additional fee of $20,000.00, which shall be paid within 30 days of entry of the decree herein.

A death of a person leaving properties and monies may lead to the rivalry between the heirs of the decedent. Here in Stephen Bilkis, our Nassau County Estate Litigation lawyers ensure that the relationship between clashing heirs will be harmonized by giving the due amount or portion of the estate to the said heir. In case a decedent left a will, our Nassau County Probate attorneys will help the heirs to have the will probated before the courts of justice in order to implement its provisions.

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