In the Estate of Samuel  Zagaria, 2013 IL App(1st) 122879, the Illinois Appellate Court for the 1st District, heard a case of a man who had gone missing for nine years and was presumed to be dead. Upon establishing a presumption of death, the Cook County Probate Court appointed his sister to be the administrator of his estate. The only asset of the estate known to anyone was a stock account worth about $500,000 that he had apparently abandoned. During the course of tracking down the man’s assets through the state of Illinois, he was found, very much alive, at a homeless shelter in Chicago. The administration of his estate was dismissed and an accounting was presented to the Court. In the accounting, the attorneys who found him, representing his sister as the administrator of the estate, requested fees of $30,859.21. He filed an appeal, challenging those fees.

The appellate court ruled that the administration of a decedent’s estate is a creature of statute, that the Court has the power to appoint an administrator, that the administrator has a right to be represented by counsel, and that counsel has a right to collect a reasonable fee for his services. Where the administrator of an estate has to perform a statutory duty, the expense of performing that duty is an administrative expense and should be charged against that estate. Since Mr. Zagaria was missing far more than seven years despite a diligent search for his whereabouts, the presumption of death entered by the Court was valid, and thus the administrative expenses of the estate were legitimate.