Guardian ad Litem and Attorney Fees Deemed Reasonable Despite a Mother’s Claims

In the Matter of the Estate of E.L., A-1906-20 (App. Div. November 21, 2022)

This matter concerns an appeal of professional fees awarded in connection with the guardianship and estate of E.L. (Emma).

Prior to Emma’s death, she was declared incapacitated and an attorney (“GAL”) was appointed to serve as Emma’s guardian ad litem.  Another attorney (“Administrator”) was initially appointed by the court to serve as Emma’s attorney for the incapacity proceeding and, after her death, he was then appointed as the administrator of Emma’s estate.  Emma’s mother, M.L. (Melanie), appealed a portion of a trial court order awarding fees to the GAL and the Administrator, arguing that both professionals engaged in “negligence and malpractice” and therefore were not entitled to their respective fees.

The Appellate Division rejected Melanie’s contentions and affirmed the order awarding the fees, substantially for the reasons expressed by the trial court.  Citing to Rule 4:86-4(e) and Rule 4:42-9(a)(3), the appeals court found that the trial court was expressly permitted to award appointed counsels’ fees to be paid from Emma’s estate.  The court further found that the professional fees were reasonable and, in any event, Melanie was represented by the same counsel throughout the guardianship proceedings, signed a consent order resolving the matter, and never challenged the conduct of the GAL or the Administrator (except in an untimely submission made at the final fee stage).  Furthermore, the court found no existence of a duty from the GAL or the Administrator to Melanie.