Category Archives: Fees

September 26, 2017

Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover (or Fifty Ways to Plan, Administer and Litigate Estates)

by Carol Warnick

As the old song by Paul Simon contemplates, there are fifty ways to leave your lover, and there are also fifty ways to plan, administer and litigate estates and trusts.  I have recently become aware of various situations in which attorneys assume that because things are done a certain way in the state in which they practice, they are done the same way in other states.

I am licensed in three states, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, and deal regularly with the significant differences between them.  For example, Colorado tends to use “by representation” in dealing with passing assets down the generations, but Utah and Wyoming both use “per stirpes.”  Read more >>

July 5, 2017

Electronic Wills

by Morgan Wiener

As regular readers of this blog know, one of our favorite topics is digital assets, including estate planning for digital assets.  Today, we’re taking a slightly different focus and discussing developments in digital estate planning, more commonly known as electronic wills.

One of the more recent developments in estate planning is the concept of electronic wills. In general, an electronic will is one that is signed and stored electronically. Instead of signing a hard copy document in ink, the testator electronically signs the will, and it is also signed by witnesses and notarized electronically.  Not surprisingly, companies like LegalZoom are very interested in this topic.

Read more >>

February 29, 2016

The High Cost of Death

by Morgan Wiener

How many of you have heard your clients complain about the various fees and costs they have to pay after the death of a loved one or the expense of going through the probate process? Well, the next time you hear someone complain, you might want to tell them to be glad they don’t live in England! (Full disclosure: I’ve spent time living and working in England, and it’s a delightful place, even if a little pricey.)

The Financial Times recently reported on a proposal to raise the cost of obtaining probate in England and Wales. Under the proposal, the fees for obtaining probate through the courts, which the Financial Times states is necessary for personal representatives to be able administer an estate, will increase from £155 (or £215 if a lawyer is used) to up to an astonishing £20,000 – or approximately $28,000! The proposed fees would be charged on a sliding scale so that estates valued up to £50,000 (approximately $70,000) would pay no fees, and estates valued above £2 million (approximately $2.8 million) would pay £20,000. These proposed fees would be in addition to any inheritance tax that is owed.

The revenues raised from the proposed fees would go towards the court system and are expected to raise up to £250 million per year.

Practitioners in England and Wales are concerned that the new fees would be especially difficult for cash-poor estates to pay. As with many estates in the United States, the value of many estates in England and Wales is largely comprised of real property. With property prices being so high – the average home price in London is a reported £536,000 – many relatively modest estates would be subject to significantly higher fees under the new proposal and may not have the cash to pay them.

The Ministry of Justice for England and Wales is continuing to consider the proposal and is soliciting comments through April 1. For more information from the Financial Times, click here.

February 2, 2015

Trustees Take Heed: Arizona Adopts the Fiduciary Exception to Attorney-Client Privilege

by Kelly Cooper

For trustees in Colorado, the question remains to what extent does the attorney-client privilege offer protection from disclosure of confidential communications between trustees and their attorneys in litigation with beneficiaries.  Despite the uncertainty in Colorado, several states and the U.S. Supreme Court have weighed in on this question and Arizona is the latest state to adopt the fiduciary exception to the attorney-client privilege.  Hammerman v. The Northern Trust Company, 329 P.3d 1055 (Ariz. App. June 3, 2014).

The Court of Appeals of Arizona held that a trustee’s attorney-client privilege “extends to all legal advice sought in the trustee’s personal capacity for purposes of self-protection.”  However, the Court also held that the trustee had an “obligation to disclose to Hammerman [beneficiary]  all attorney-client communications that occurred in its fiduciary capacity on matters of administration of the trust.”

These standards will inevitably give rise to many questions depending on the facts and circumstances of the trust administration at issue, but one will likely come up over and over again.  At what point will a trustee be permitted to seek advice for self-protection.  Is a question from a beneficiary enough?  Does a lawsuit have to be filed?  A demand letter sent?  Can the trustee use trust funds to pay for the advice?

In a departure from other courts, the Court of Appeals of Arizona held that the trustee’s attorney-client privilege does not end merely because the advice was paid for out of trust funds.  (For example, the U.S. Supreme Court noted that the source of payment for fees is “highly relevant” in identifying who is the “real client.”  United States v. Jicarilla Apache Nation, 131 S. Ct. 2313, 2330 (2011).  The Delaware Court of Chancery found that the source of payment was a ““significant factor… [and] a strong indication of precisely who the real clients were.”  Riggs National Bank of Washington, D.C. v. Zimmer, 355 A.2d 709, 712 (Del. Ch. 1976).)

Without any clear guidance in Colorado, it is important for trustees (and their counsel) to keep a close watch on future developments. 

January 20, 2015

Avoidable Litigation as a Threat to the Assets of An Estate

by Carol Warnick

It wasn’t that long ago when the real threat to the financial well-being of a person’s estate was death taxes.  People were concerned about losing close to 50% of their estate to taxes without proper planning.  But with the increased exemption amounts, death taxes are not a big issue in most cases.  But something else is taking its toll on the hope of a smooth and simple passing of assets at death, and that is litigation. 

Much of the current estate litigation relates to family disputes, some of which might have been avoided through better estate planning.  But a certain amount of these family disputes would have occurred anyway simply because the families were upset enough to litigate over anything once mom and dad have passed away.  There is a different type of litigation beginning to crop up, however, that may create just as many problems for an estate as family in-fighting, and one which can be totally prevented.  I am speaking of litigation over wills and trusts drafted with forms obtained over the internet.

Unfortunately, with the increased exemption amounts (currently $5.43 million per person) and since many people no longer need tax planning they are more apt to decide they can do their estate planning documents themselves and not involve an attorney.  While self-drafted wills are not new and have been creating estate administration problems for years, I believe that the current ease of finding forms on the internet, making a few changes, and printing them at home will likely make this a more significant problem in the future. 

Cases are starting to crop up regarding mistakes made by consumers using internet forms.  One Florida case is a good example.  The case is Aldrich v. Basile, 136 So. 3rd, 530 (Fla. 2014).  In this case, Ms. Aldrich used a form and listed all the assets she owned at the time (her home and its contents, an IRA, a car and some bank accounts) and stated they should go to her sister.  If her sister didn’t survive her, she listed her brother as the one to receive everything. 

As luck would have it, her sister predeceased her and left her some additional assets which weren’t listed in Ms. Aldrich’s will because she didn’t own them when she drafted her will.   Either because the internet form didn’t contain one or because Ms. Aldrich took it out when she printed the will because she thought all her assets were covered, there was no residuary clause in the will.  As a result, after a trial court decision, an appellate court reversal, and ultimately an appeal to the Florida Supreme Court, it was decided that the listed assets would go per the will but the after-acquired assets inherited from her sister would pass through intestacy, bringing in two nieces who were the daughters of Ms. Aldrich’s deceased brother to share in the estate.

Although the living brother offered a note left by Ms. Aldrich and other extrinsic evidence that Ms. Aldrich intended all of her assets to go to him, the court refused to consider them because of the “four corners” doctrine. There was no ambiguity within the four corners of the will, therefore no extrinsic evidence was admitted.

It is easy to see how Ms. Aldrich could have simply deleted the residuary clause thinking she didn’t need it, but it is very unlikely that a competent lawyer drafting a will would make that mistake.  If the lawyer had made the mistake, there would potentially have been recourse through the lawyer’s malpractice insurance. It seems that the ease of which will and trust forms are now available on the internet and the fact that many people don’t need a lawyer’s expertise for tax planning under current law will combine to create many more of these problems.  Such problems lead to costly litigation with really no recourse for the families of those “do-it-yourselfers.”

Several states have looked at the issue of whether or not legal form providers are violating unauthorized practice of law statutes, but the cases are by no means consistently decided.  While such issues are being sorted out, the old adage “buyer beware” certainly applies with regard to do-it-yourself wills and trusts. 

A concurring opinion in the Florida case summed it up as follows:

Obviously, the cost of drafting a will through the use of a pre-printed form is likely substantially lower than the cost of hiring a knowledgeable lawyer.  However, as illustrated by this case, the ultimate cost of utilizing such a form to draft one’s will has the potential to far surpass the cost of hiring a lawyer at the outset.  In a case such as this, which involved a substantial sum of money, the time, effort, and expense of extensive litigation undertaken in order to prove a testator’s true intent after the testator’s death can necessitate the expenditure of much more substantial amounts in attorney’s fees than was avoided during the testator’s life by the use of a pre-printed form1.


 1Aldrich v. Basile, 136 So. 3rd 530, 538 (Fla. 2014). 

April 28, 2014

Should an undue influencer be responsible for paying the legal fees incurred to rectify the undue influence?

by Kelly Cooper

In a recent unpublished decision, the Colorado Court of Appeals held that a niece who unduly influenced her uncle was not responsible for the payment of the uncle's legal fees, which were required to rectify the undue influence and return the property to the uncle.

Specifically, the niece was accused of unduly influencing her uncle to give her pieces of real estate during his life. A jury found that the niece did unduly influence her uncle and that she breached her fiduciary duty to her uncle. As a result, the court ordered that the real estate be transferred back to the uncle. In addition, the jury awarded $315,000 in legal fees against the niece to make the uncle whole.

On appeal, the niece argued that she should not be responsible for the payment of attorney's fees because Colorado follows the American rule that parties in a dispute must pay their own legal fees. The uncle, through his conservator, argued that an award of legal fees was appropriate in this case under the breach of fiduciary duty/trust exception to the American rule. This exception was first recognized by the Colorado Court of Appeals in 1982. See Heller v. First Nat'l Bank of Denver, 657 P.2d 992 (Colo. App. 1982). The Colorado Supreme Court recognized the exception in 1989. See Buder v. Satore, 774 P.2d 1383 (Colo. 1989).

Despite the recognition of this exception, the Colorado Court of Appeals found that the Colorado Supreme Court has cautioned it against liberally construing any of the exceptions to the American rule.

In finding that the exception did not apply to this case of undue influence, the Colorado Court of Appeals held that the niece's breach of fiduciary duty did not closely resemble a breach of trust. In addition, the Court of Appeals found that the niece breached her duty as an individual, rather than any fiduciary duty to manage property, and that abusing personal influence is not similar to mismanaging property as a fiduciary.

The citation for the case is: In the Interest of Phillip Delluomo, Protected Person, 2012CA2513.

September 24, 2013

Fiduciary Solutions Symposium Recap

by Kelly Cooper

Last week, we held our first Fiduciary Solutions Symposium.  We want to thank each of you that came and participated.  We enjoyed seeing all of you and getting a chance to catch up with you over breakfast.

For those of you that couldn’t attend, here is a brief recap.  When we discussed topics that we wanted to present at the Symposium, we kept coming back to the constantly evolving and changing nature of our practices.  Whether it is taxes, ADR or changes in state laws, things never stay the same.  As a result, we decided to discuss a variety of topics and the trends we are seeing each day in our practices.  It was difficult to narrow down the topics to two hours of content, but we ended up discussing the following issues:

  • Digital Assets
  • Social Media and Use in Litigation
  • Gun trusts
  • Civil Unions/Same Sex Marriage and related tax issues
  • Reformation and modification of trusts and decanting
  • Apportionment and allocation of taxes and expenses in administration
  • Baby boomers and the “Silver Tsunami”
  • Migratory Clients and Differing State Laws
  • Trends in Alternative Dispute Resolution
  • Assisted Reproductive Technology

 We had so much fun that we are taking the show on the road and will be in Salt Lake City on November 12th.  We hope to see you there.

April 8, 2013

Expert Excess—When Expert Testimony Is Superfluous

by C. Jean Stewart

From May 1995 through June 2011 I served as Presiding Judge of the Denver Probate Court. Lawyers occasionally complained when I asked them not to burden me with expert witness testimony on a matter of fiduciary fees or legal fees, citing CRE 702 as not contributing to my experience or knowledge on the topic. Often, under CRE 703 the opinion was not properly supported. While I understood their desire to dazzle me with their expert's opinion about the fairness and reasonableness of their upstanding client's proposed fee or, alternatively, about the outrageously excessive fee being siphoned off of the estate or trust by the unscrupulous fiduciary and his/her scumbag accountants and attorneys, I often stood pat on my original ruling that expert evidence would not be heard on the issue because it did not provide "scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge that I thought would assist me in understanding the evidence or determining a fact in issue." CRE 702

Once or twice I had occasion to rule on a case with facts that I thought might form an excellent appellate case so that my approach could be challenged (and hopefully supported by the prevailing side). It never came to be so Colorado does not have a good appellate opinion on the point.

Recently, I read several Michigan appellate cases (one unpublished) that summarize the issue and state my views succinctly.

The probate court excluded the expert testimony from evidence, finding that the testimony was not properly admitted in accordance with MRE 703. Barron Trust v. Barron, 2013 WL 275913 (Mich.App.) at FN 2, p. 2. [not a published opinion]

The Michigan Court of Appeals has addressed this issue previously and has concluded that

". . . the probate court could adequately evaluate the reasonableness of appellant's fiduciary fee in accordance with the pertinent factors enumerated in Comerica, 179 Mich. App at 724, especially in light of the court's extensive experience and knowledge in evaluating such matters. Thacker, 137 Mich. App at 258. Id.

Obviously, Michigan, where there are numerous specialized probate courts, is not Colorado. It is heartening, however, to see that I was not perched upon a particularly slender reed when I addressed contested fiduciary and legal fees without the use of expert testimony.