Legal Memorandum: Payment of Legal Fees from an Estate

Issue: Whether the beneficiaries of the estate have a legal obligation (i.e., contractual obligation) to pay the attorney’s fees in an estate matter

Area of Law: Estate Planning & Probate
Keywords: Legal fees from estate assets; Fiduciary Powers
Jurisdiction: New York
Cited Cases: 687 N.Y.S.2d 592; 15 N.Y.2d 179; 287 N.Y.S. 12; 4 N.Y.S.2d 467; 906 N.Y.S.2d 796; 709 N.Y.S.2d 597; 808 N.Y.S.2d 837; 933 N.E.2d 194; 656 N.Y.S.2d 434; 238 A.D.2d 682
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 04/01/2011

The court in In re Geller’s Estate, 167 Misc. 578, 4 N.Y.S.2d 467 (Sur. Ct. 1938), contrasted an award “from the estate generally” as limited to instances in which attorney’s services were rendered to the estate or its representative, Id. at 580, 4 N.Y.S.2d at 471, with those rendered to a devisee, distributee, legatee, or similar such interested person, which were payable by the individual devisee or other interested person, id. at 580, 4 N.Y.S.2d at 471-72.  “[A]n attorney retained by the fiduciary is not entitled to compensation from estate assets for services which were not reasonably within the province of his principal in his representative capacity.”  Id. at 582, 4 N.Y.S.2d at 473.  The court held that in that case the attorney was not entitled to compensation from the estate, because the distributees retained him to try to prove a lost will, which action he lost; this retainer did not amount to such a benefit to the estate as to warrant the attorney’s compensation from the estate.  Id. at 582-83, 4 N.Y.S.2d at 474.

In In re Woolfson’s Will, 158 Misc. 928, 930, 287 N.Y.S. 12, 16 (Sur. Ct. 1936), the court stated the rule that an estate fiduciary cannot bind the estate to pay a certain amount of attorney’s fees out of the estate, and it also contrasted the retention of such a fiduciary of an attorney for the purpose of the individual’s benefit.  158 Misc. at 930, 287 N.Y.S. at 15-16.

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