Estates and Ethics

by | Jan 5, 2018 | Character & Fitness / Ethics, Estate Planning

Please note that this is not legal advice. See our disclaimer.

There is a common misconception among attorneys that estate work is simple, easy and requires little effort. However, this is simply not the case. Even non-complicated estates need to be carefully analyzed and treated with care if attorneys want to avoid any ethical pitfalls. Attorneys are often entrusted with original documents, including wills and trusts, that are necessary to effectuate estate administration. Further, estates must be managed with care to ensure that a beneficiary does not challenge the actions of an executor/administrator. Estates should not be left for long periods of time without necessary attention. An estate should be treated with prompt attention similar to that given to any other case. It is an attorney’s job to resolve issues for estates as quickly as possible. They should be completing work on their own without needing to be constantly reminded to do so from a client.

Further, attorneys often times are mistaken in what amount of fees they are permitted to charge for administration of an estate. Attorney’s fees for an estate must be commensurate with the amount of work required to administer that estate. For example, an estate that is worth millions of dollars but involves a sole heir that is receiving all estate property through right of survivorship cannot be charged a large sum simply because the estate is worth a significant amount. Conversely, a small estate that involves lengthy and complex litigation can legitimately have relatively higher attorney’s fees.

Attorneys in Pennsylvania often refer to the Johnson schedule as a basis for estate fees. However, Courts have sometimes determined that even this schedule can be unreasonable if the amount of legal work does not justify the amount of payment. All payments to attorneys can be subjected to judicial review. Ultimately, attorneys must be conscientious in charging reasonable attorney’s fees when they represent estates.


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