McGrath v. Gallant
In the 1923 case of Hayward v. Plant, the Supreme Court set forth nine factors for the court to consider when determining the reasonableness of compensation charged to an estate including: the size of the estate, responsibilities involved, character of work required, problems and difficulties met, results achieved, knowledge, skill and judgment required and used, manner and promptitude with which the estate was settled, time and service required and any other relevant and material circumstances. The plaintiff, Diane McGrath, appealed from the trial court's judgment upholding the West Hartford Probate Court's orders awarding fiduciary and attorneys' fees to the defendants, Keith Gallant and Day Pitney, LLP. The plaintiff contended that the fiduciary fees Gallant received as executor of the will of William McGrath and trustee of the decedent's trust, and attorneys' fees Gallant and Day Pitney received as counsel for the estate, were unreasonable and excessive. The Appellate Court affirmed the judgment. The court properly applied the Hayward factors and did not abuse its discretion by determining that the facts of this case, as applied to the results and promptitude factors, supported a conclusion that the defendants were entitled to fiduciary and attorneys' fees of approximately $120,000 in addition to a prior uncontested award of approximately $91,000. The plaintiff conceded that the submitted billing records accurately reflected work performed. She argued that much of the work was unnecessary and could have been avoided. Her primary argument was that Gallant's inability timely to sell the estate's real property in the Bahamas and erosion that occurred supported a reduction of fees under Hayward's results and promptitude factors. However, the court was presented with evidence of the plaintiff and her siblings' contentiousness and litigious nature. The court did not abuse its discretion in considering Gallant's ability to prevent the siblings from depleting the estate's assets through needless litigation or in considering the time spent dealing with issues they created. The panel declined to adopt a new rule limiting such fees to an amount proportionate to the estate's size, as suggested in a Stratford Probate Court decision. Estate size is one Hayward factor. Elevating it to a dispositive level would run afoul of the sound holistic approach to reasonableness the Supreme Court set forth nearly a century ago.