Fiduciaries such as Executors, Administrators and Trustees are frequently required to participate in proceedings in the Surrogate’s Court. There are many different types of cases in the Court such as probate and administration proceedings and accountings. For example a Brooklyn Estate Lawyer might be retained by an Executor to represent the executor in a discovery proceeding to recover assets that are claimed to have belonged to the decedent. Similarly, a Bronx Estate Attorney may be hired by a fiduciary to assist with the interpretation or construction of a Last Will or Trust Agreement that is ambiguous.
There are occasions when the Executor or other fiduciary may find hiring an attorney to be difficult because the estate or the trust either does not have any assets or the assets are not liquid or available to pay counsel fees. A question would then arise as to whether the fiduciary could represent himself pro se in his capacity as a fiduciary. This issue was recently presented to Manhattan Surrogate Nora Anderson in “Matter of Van Patten” which was decided on February 10, 2014 and reported in the New York Law Journal. In Van Patten the non-attorney Executor of the estate of a trust income beneficiary sought to represent herself pro-se in the trustee’s accounting proceeding. The Court found that the Executor, as a fiduciary, had obligations to potential estate beneficiaries and creditors and the pro-se representation by a non-attorney fiduciary would constitute an unlawful practice of law. The Executor was directed to retain an attorney or risk having the estate’s objections to the trust accounting dismissed.
As can be seen from this case, representation of a fiduciary in Surrogate’s Court proceedings can be quite complex. A fiduciary has numerous obligations and must protect the interests of estate beneficiaries as well as other parties such as creditors. As a New York estate attorney, I am familiar with the various duties that estate representatives must attend to as well as the laws and procedures involved with estate settlement. I assist my clients regarding these issues and work with them concerning all matters to finalize an estate.