Lawyer sought $2.5 million dollars for three days as emergency guardian

A recent story about an Augusta-area lawyer has made North American headlines. The full story is found here.┬áMr. Christopher Nicholson claimed he was entitled to $2.5 million dollars for his services related to the estate of Mr. Harrell Tiller who passed away on December 21, 2014. Mr. Tiller was a former Richmond County Commission chairman. He was also a politician and he had a real estate company. In November of 2014 Mr. Tiller suffered a stroke. The family could not agree on where Mr. Tiller would recover. His common law wife’s daughter approached Mr. Nicholson in order to get him to help her mother obtain a power of attorney. Mr. Nicholson petitioned a Probate Judge to serve as Mr. Tiller’s emergency guardian. A banker who handled some of Mr. Tiller’s financial affairs allegedly filed an objection and Mr. Nicholson was removed as guardian. Mr. Nicholson then sought $2.5 million from Mr. Tiller’s estate, and also filed liens against some of Mr. Tiller’s bank accounts and 21 properties.

On March 7, 2015 Justice Carlisle Overstreet voided the liens, and denied Mr. Nicholson the funds he sought from the estate.

Although all of the facts in the above scenario are not clear, it seems extraordinary that a lawyer would be able to justify a claim for $2.5 million based on three days as guardian. An earlier story from February 15, 2016 found here suggests that Mr. Nicholson’s placing of liens on various estate assets resulted in the halting of the administration of Mr. Tiller’s estate. Furthermore, it appears that Mr. Nicholson had himself appointed as Tiller’s medical power of attorney and guardian of his finances. Allegations were made that Mr. Nicholson went to various banks where Mr. Tiller had accounts in order to find out how much money he actually had. Mr. Nicholson testified that he only went to the banks to look for a Will about a month before Mr. Tiller passed away. It is not clear if Mr. Nicholson will appeal Justice Carlisle Overstreet’s decision.

The story also underscores the importance of having an updated Will and Power of Attorney documentation. It appears that Mr. Tiller’s family did not have the authority to make decisions about his health as there was no power of attorney in place. Furthermore, given Mr. Nicholson’s position that he went to various banks in order to look for a Will, it is very likely that Mr. Tiller also did not have a Will in place. This exposed Mr. Tiller and his estate to all kinds of potential problems, including the need to obtain an emergency guardian for Mr. Tiller after his stroke.

Although Mr. Nicholson was blocked from asserting his claim, it is unclear how Mr. Tiller’s estate will be administered. It is unclear whether Mr. Tiller has executors in place and also who the beneficiaries of his estate are. This seems like a scenario where an estate dispute may soon develop. It will be an interesting story to follow.