Azoulay v. Gersten
A court can overturn a final account, if there is evidence of fraud, self-dealing or a conflict of interest. In 2002, Attorney Maurice Gersten passed away and left an estate worth approximately $10 million. Gersten's handwritten will named his brother, Attorney Aaron Gersten, and his niece, Mary Anne Liss, as the executors of his estate. Probate Judge Paul Knierim admitted the handwritten will and approved the final account of November 2010. Gersten's niece, Sara Azoulay, who is the beneficiary of a $100,000 bequest and one-fourth of the residuary estate, alleged breach of fiduciary duty and appealed. The plaintiff possessed the burden to prove her allegations by a preponderance of the evidence. The Superior Court reviewed de novo. The decedent owned several parcels of property. Each property had to be distributed to a beneficiary or sold, and certain properties were repaired prior to sale. The decedent also owned bank accounts, stocks, bonds, an interest in the law firm of Gersten & Gersten, limited liability companies and personal property. Attorney Aaron Gersten made substantial provisions for the plaintiff and located a place for her to reside. As a result of the executors' efforts, the estate's assets increased from $10 to nearly $14 million. The court approved fees of $265,845 to the law firm of Gersten & Gersten and $50,000 to Executrix Mary Anne Liss. The court also approved $22,000 to an attorney at Atlas Hudson and $62,885 for Frank Morocco, a certified public accountant who prepared tax returns. Documents that Attorney Aaron Gersten submitted, wrote the court, "clearly and comprehensively prove that the Estate was properly maintained and the account on Nov. 23, 2010 [was] complete and accurate." The record established that the plaintiff received money earlier than the other beneficiaries. There was no evidence of fraud, self-dealing or conflict of interests. The court rejected the plaintiff's request to pay the plaintiff's attorney. The plaintiff's attorney did not represent the estate, and there was no legal authority to award her attorneys' fees. The court approved the final account and ordered a hearing on additional attorneys' fees, to defend the executors at trial.