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In Re Estate of Marks





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. RAYMOND E. TRAFALET, Judge, presiding.


The children of the late Hillard W. Marks (the heirs) appeal from an award of attorney's fees in the amount of $148,703.75 made by the circuit court of Cook County to the petitioner, Lieberman, Levy, Baron & Stone, Ltd. (Lieberman). Lieberman represented the Northern Trust Company (Northern Trust) and Mary G. Oppenheim, co-executors of the Marks' estate, and also the Northern Trust as administrator to collect the assets of the estate until it qualified as co-executor.

The decedent died on November 20, 1972, leaving an estate valued at over $2,000,000. Lieberman filed a petition for an award covering legal services rendered to the estate from the date of death through November 1976 in the amount of $164,703.75. This figure included $16,000 for services to the Northern Trust as trustee of the Marks' family trust and as administrator to collect. Lieberman's calculation of fees was based solely on the time spent by its attorneys at hourly charges ranging from $40 to $80 per hour. On appeal, the heirs argue the amount of the award was unreasonably large.

The heirs classified the 2998 hours of services rendered in the following manner:

1. Sherman Marks claim. The decedent's brother, Sherman Marks, filed three claims against the estate, totaling $237,150.63, for monies allegedly due him pursuant to various ventures. Lieberman eventually settled all three claims for a total of $7,750. Approximately 37 hours were spent on these matters.

2. Spir-Mark investment account. In 1972 the decedent filed suit to dissolve the Spir-Mark investment account, a partnership between the decedent and Robert Spircoff. Lieberman reviewed the proceedings and negotiated a settlement and sale of the decedent's partnership interest. The time spent on this was approximately 234 hours.

3. Horse trainer claims. Two horse trainers made claims against the estate in the total amount of $31,706.50. Lieberman negotiated with both trainers. One claim was eventually dropped and the other settled for $3,447. Approximately 20 hours were expended on these matters.

4. Tax questions. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) was conducting an audit of the decedent's income tax returns covering a number of years at the time of his death. Lieberman consulted with the executors concerning issues raised by the audit and reviewed the 1972 return before it was filed. Lieberman also consulted with the executors concerning the preparation of gift tax returns in the decedent's name for the two years preceding his death. The time spent on these matters was approximately 58 hours.

5. Burial and reinterment. Lieberman opposed a petition by Helen Baron, a friend of the decedent's, by which she sought to have the decedent disinterred and then reinterred in another grave. Baron's petition was denied. Approximately 32 hours were spent on this.

6. Recovery of records. Baron was in possession of many of the decedent's financial records at the time of his death and refused to deliver them to the executors. Lieberman engaged in negotiations with her attorneys and made numerous court appearances in order to obtain access to those records. Approximately 42 hours were spent on this matter.

7. Insurance loan claim. Baron was the beneficiary of nine insurance policies on the decedent's life. The decedent made loans against the policies during his lifetime. Baron filed a claim against the estate seeking to recover the amount of the loans which had been deducted from the policy proceeds by the insurers. Lieberman reviewed documents, researched and subsequently filed a successful motion for summary judgment. Approximately 137 hours were spent on this matter.

8. Estate tax on life insurance proceeds. Lieberman filed suit in Federal court to compel Baron to pay the Federal estate taxes attributable to the life insurance proceeds. The suit was successful. Approximately 97 hours were spent on this matter.

9. Mortgage on condominium. The decedent's will directed his executor to pay a note secured by the mortgage on a condominium in Chicago. The decedent had previously given the property to Baron. The co-executors treated this as a pecuniary legacy to be deducted from the claims of the estate against Baron. Baron filed a petition to require that the mortgage be paid off. The co-executors eventually cancelled the note and mortgage when it became clear that the estate's claims could be satisfied out of the $125,000 legacy provided for Baron in the will. Lieberman spent 23 hours on this.

10. Petition to remove co-executors. Baron filed a petition to remove the co-executors. Baron withdrew the petition after her bequest was paid. ...

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