Attorneys’ Fees in Probate Cases – New Illinois State Bar Association Ethics Opinion.

The Illinois State Bar Association (“ISBA”) has issued an advisory opinion that attorneys representing clients in probate cases cannot ethically collect fees in excess of the amount determined to be reasonable by the court. Here is one common scenario:  An attorney is hired to represent the executor of an estate in probate court.  An executor is named in a person’s will.  The attorney enters into an hourly-rate fee arrangement with the client (executor), which provides that the estate will pay the attorney’s fees, but if the probate court disallows any part of the attorney’s fees as excessive, then the client shall pay the disallowed portion of the fees to the attorney from the client’s separate and individual funds.  The ISBA’s advisory opinion declares this type of agreement to be unethical.

The Illinois Probate Act provides: “The attorney for a representative is entitled to reasonable compensation for his services.”  755 ILCS 5/27-2(a).  There is no provision in the Probate Act requiring that the executor’s attorney’s fees and costs be paid exclusively from the estate.”  In re Estate of Elias, 408 Ill. App. 3d 301, 323 (1st Dist. 2011).  However, the ISBA’s opinion declares that a lawyer and executor cannot agree that the executor will personally pay fees that have been disallowed by the probate court as being excessive (i.e., unreasonable).

Illinois Rule of Processional Conduct 1.5(a) begins as follows: “A lawyer shall not make an agreement for, charge, or collect an unreasonable fee or an unreasonable amount for expenses.”  The ISBA opinion states that if a legal fee is deemed excessive by a probate court, it likewise is excessive under Rule 1.5(a).  (Note: ISBA opinions are not binding on the courts or disciplinary agencies, but they are often considered by them in evaluating the conduct of lawyers.)

To speak with one of our estate planning attorneys, call us Toll Free at (877) 646-9245 or via our website at http://dd-lawfirm.com/contact.php.   We are here to help.  

 DISCLAIMER: This blog post is not legal advice and should not be relied on by anyone as legal advice in their particular situation.  Furthermore, while DeBlasio & Donnell LLC welcomes communications via its website, please be aware that communicating any information to DeBlasio & Donnell LLC or any of its attorneys through its web site or via any other method without a formal engagement with the Firm does not constitute or create an attorney-client relationship between you (or any other users, senders or recipients) and DeBlasio & Donnell LLC or any of its attorneys.  For your protection, please do not send us confidential information until you have spoken with one of our lawyers and received authorization to send that information to our Firm.  Thank you.