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Court Decides Reasonable Attorney’s Fees in Estate Matter


This is a case being heard in the Surrogate’s Court of New York County. The issue of the case deals with the estate of Emma B. Johnson. The executor and petitioner for the estate is Norman W. Roe. The respondents in the case are Long Island College Hospital, The Industrial Home for the Blind, and St. Faith’s House.


The issue of this case involves objections to the amount of legal fees that have been paid to the law firm of Vunk & Carleton. The three objectors of the case were given equal parts of half of the estate of Emma B. Johnson. The owner of the other half of the estate is Norman W. Roe. Norman Roe is the temporary administrator and executor of the estate and is the brother of the testatrix.

The objections in the case involve a payment of $40,000 from the estate to the attorneys and a sum of $25,000 that was paid by the fiduciary out of his own pocket to the attorneys and then reimbursed to him from the assets of the estate. A New York Probate Lawyer said the objectants argue that the sum of $40,000 is excessive and that the $25,000 payment represented a loan from the temporary administrator to the lawyers and was not payment for their legal services and charging this amount to the estate was improper.

Case Background

All of the services provided by Vunk & Carleton took place in connection with the proceedings in Suffolk County. This was before it was determined that the decedent’s domicile was actually located in New York County. The order that authorized a payment in the sum of $40,000 to the lawyers was dated the 18th of April, 1939. This was an ex parte order and did not fix the reasonable value of the services that were provided. The order was made by a court that was later found to have no jurisdiction over the case.

The amount of $25000 is said to be a reimbursement to Mr. Roe for two separate advances that he made. A Staten Island Probate Lawyer said the first was a check that was written to John R. Vunk from Mr. Roe’s personal checking account. He received a paper drawn up by Mr. Vunk that was signed on behalf of his firm. The second advance was in the amount of $5000. The same type of paper was issued for this check as well. The firm did not repay these sums.

Court Discussion and Decision

It seems to the court that the $25,000 that was paid by Mr. Roe to the attorney was in fact a loan and this amount should have been returned to him from the fees that were obtained by the lawyers from the estate.

Queens Probate Lawyers said the next question in this case is to determine a reasonable amount for the services provided by the attorney’s in this particular matter. After reviewing the case and the services provided by the attorneys in this matter, the court finds that the fee of $65,000 is reasonable. It is felt that the law firm provided the necessary services needed in this particular case. All of the claims made in objection to the fees of $40,000 and $25,000 are overruled.

The law offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates are located through out the city of New York. If you have any type of legal question regarding a will, estate administration or probate matter, you may contact our offices to set up a free consultation. We are happy to discuss your legal matter with you and determine what the best course of action would be.

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