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Matter of Kinzler

    Brief Fact Summary. Appellant Executor Bertram Zweiborn (Appellant), son-in-law of Testator Pauline Kinzler (Testator), appeals a lower court order which was the result of a proceeding initiated by Respondent Beneficiary Daughters (Respondents) that he breached his fiduciary duties.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Fiduciary duties are owed from an estate executor to its beneficiaries and must be discharged in an unbiased and unprejudiced manner that does not involve self-dealing.

    Facts. Appellant appeals a lower court ruling that (1) awarded the objectants’ attorney $ 7,000 as and for legal fees, payable by the estate, (2) held that the sale of the decedent’s residence to one of the beneficiaries, who was also a testamentary trustee under the will, was tainted with a conflict of interest and self-dealing, (3) held the payment by the executor to himself of advance legal fees, without prior court order, to be improper and ordered him to refund $ 11,595.15, plus interest in the amount of $ 16,398.68, for a total of $ 27,993.83, and (4) fixed the legal fees of the executor in amounts less than requested. The matter arose as of the results of Respondents complaint that Plaintiff had violated his fiduciary duties because he was engaged in self-dealing and prejudiced and biased disposal of the estate. Appellant contends that he satisfactorily fulfilled his executor duties and appeals.

    Issue. Are fiduciary duties owed from an estate executor to its beneficiaries and must these duties be discharged in an unbiased and unprejudiced manner that does not involve self-dealing?

    Held. Yes. Fiduciary duties are owed from an estate executor to its beneficiaries and must be discharged in an unbiased and unprejudiced manner that does not involve self-dealing. Appellant violated this fiduciary duty because of the sale of Testator’s house to a cotrustee, he refused to pay income to one of the respondents, and he paid himself excess fees in advance without permission. A person standing in the relation of a fiduciary capacity, cannot deal with or purchase the property, in reference to which he holds that relation. An executor must at all times discharge his fiduciary duties so that all legatees are treated in like manner and without prejudice or discrimination. It is ultimately the court’s responsibility to decide what constitutes reasonable compensation. In determining what constitutes just and reasonable compensation for an attorney’s services, the court should consider the time spent, the difficulties involved in the matters in which the services were rendered,
    the nature of the services, the amount involved, the professional standing of the counsel, and the results obtained. The court may also consider whether the attorney was also the executor entitled to commissions. As to the legal fees owed, it is the rule that where legal services have been rendered for the benefit of the estate as a whole, resulting in the enlargement of all the shares of all the estate beneficiaries, reasonable compensation should be granted from the funds of the estate. Respondents’ attorney here clearly enlarged the shares of the estate. Therefore, we determine that Respondent’s contentions are meritless.

    Discussion. The fiduciary duty is at all time owed from the executor of an estate to its beneficiaries. This case serves as an excellent example of those duties owed.


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