HELPFUL HINTS FOR ATTORNEY’S FEES IN ESTATES

January 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

If you want to get paid in probate matters, you have got to give the judge the information he or she needs to make an award.

UCCR 6.12 says that you have to provide the court with all the information required in UCCR 6.11, and ” … the nature and effect thereof.” The information required in 6.11 is ” … the nature and extent of the service rendered and expense incurred … ” Fees may not be based on the value of any real property.

The factors that the court must consider in determining what is a reasonable attorney’s fee in an estate or probate matter are discussed in this earlier post.

I will not rule on attorney’s fees in a probate matter unless the attorney has given the interested parties notice of what the amount of fees requested is and what services were rendered. After all, the heirs, beneficiaries or ward are paying out of their own pockets, so they should have some say.

Here are some helpful hints to do it right:

  • Make an itemized statement showing the date you performed each service, the nature of the service, and the amount of time spent. An entry might read: 1-22-12   Preparation of Letters Testamentary   1/4 Hr.
  • If there is no dispute about your fee, either attach the itemized statement as an exhibit to your pleading to close the estate, or incorporate it into the pleading itself. That way, when the interested parties join in or sign it they are documenting that they agree with the fee. Include a statement to the effect that ” … based on the [itemized statement], petitioners agree that a reasonable fee is $ ______.”
  • If there is not agreement about the fee, spell out in the petition to close the estate that there is a dispute as to the fee, and set it for hearing.

If your fee is based on a contingent fee contract for wrongful death or some other claim of the estate, remember that UCCR 6.12 requires that your contract must be approved in advance, and that the ultimate award will be ” … such sum as will be reasonable compensation for the service rendered and expense incurred … ” Your claim for fees must set out (1) the total amount recovered, (2) the nature and extent of the service rendered and expense incurred by the attorney, and (3) the amount, if any, offered to settle before the attorney was hired.

To get an idea of the breadth of the chancellor’s discretion in awarding attorney’s fees in an estate, read In re Estate of McCullough, 58 So.3d 701 (Miss. App. 2009) in which the COA upheld the chancellor’s award of only $36,660 where the attorney had sought $88,550. A similar result was upheld in Barnes, Broom, Dallas & McCleod, PLLC v. Estate of Cappaert, 991 So.2d 1209, 1213 (Miss. App. 2008).

Attorney’s fees are the personal obligation of the fiduciary, but where the attorney’s services have benefited the estate, the fees may be paid out of the estate; conversely, if the attorney’s services have not benefited the estate, the estate should not have to bear the expense. Estate of Collins v. Collins, 742 So.2d 147, 148 (Miss.App. 1999).

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