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  • Writer's pictureJohn Stevens

What? It Cost How Much?

I recently posted a blog on the cost differences between a living trust and a will and highlighting that the cost of a will must include the cost of the probate. To put a fine point on the issue, a case just came out of the Tennessee Court of Appeals that discusses attorney's fees in probate matters.

A few observations about the case. First, the trial court stated that the "cultural history of fees within our judicial district has long been...they were charged as percentages." I have found over the years that the family likes a percentage because they have some idea of the potential attorney fee from the beginning of the matter - as compared to a straight hourly rate of $200 per hour (as the attorney in the case In Re: Estate of Bingham charged). [As an aside, the entire court approved, "reasonable" attorney fee was $12,400. I do not dispute the fee was reasonable for the attorney's work performed. The question is how did it get to $12,400.00?]

Second observation - this matter went through the trial court and then was appealed to a higher appellate court. Someone paid additional attorney's fees to appeal and the defend the appeal.

Third, the Court pointed out some circumstances which drove the cost of the litigation. Ms. Bingham had two children and her will equally divided her estate between the two children. One was Executor and one was not. The Court fingered the reason the attorney fee got to $12,400 - "[the estate attorney's] work, most of which was devoted to [Executor's] holy war with his previously beloved sister..."

Interestingly, the big issue between them dealt with an $80,000 Certificate of Deposit and whether it was an estate asset or passed to one of the children via right of survivorship. More on that in a separate blog post. Tune In! (Cue music for cliffhanger...]

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