Pennsylvania Probate Attorney Fees
Serving as executor of a Pennsylvania estate is a time-consuming and difficult task. In addition to the emotional strength required, the executor must be able to quickly digest numerous laws and responsibilities enforced by various bureaucracies and institutions. It’s a monumental task in a foreign field. Fortunately, there is help.
Along with accepting compensation for serving in the role, an executor is strongly encouraged to hire a probate attorney. An experienced probate attorney guides an executor through the process, becomes responsible for most of the difficult tasks, and helps ensure the executor satisfies all of their fiduciary responsibilities.
In Pennsylvania, a probate attorney’s fees are paid out of the estate funds. As part of the executor’s responsibility in managing an estate, state laws require that the attorney’s fee is “fair and reasonable.” Let’s take a look at what fair and reasonable really looks like in the context of a probate attorney’s fees.
“Fair and Reasonable”
The legislature doesn’t set probate attorney’s fees in Pennsylvania. Any challenge to the “fair and reasonable” requirement will be left to the discretion of each county’s Orphan’s Court. While the Pennsylvania Legislature has resisted the ease of adopting a percentage based fee schedule, some Orphan’s Court judges have supplied some helpful precedent. Pennsylvania probate judges regularly apply schedule attached to a 1983 case opinion, the Johnson Estate.
The Johnson Estate executor fee schedule is posted below. It’s a benchmark many judges have recognized or referenced over the past 30 years when an attorney’s fees have been challenged. Rather than balancing countless factors, many judges first examine how the claimed fee compares to the schedule in Johnson. This schedule, therefore serves as the most intelligible answer to an appropriate executor’s fee in Pennsylvania.
This schedule represents by no means what an estate must, or should pay. Ultimately, the executor and the attorney must decide the fee based on the work involved with that individual estate.
Attorney fees can be determined by a percentage, on a typical hourly rate, or on a flat rate for all work involved.
Regardless, the fee agreement should detail the work to be done by the executor and the attorney, including the division of responsibilities. The fee should be calculated based on the size of the estate, responsibility incurred by the attorney, the complexity of the estate and experience of the attorney. Each estate is different, understanding the responsibilities of the attorney and their background will ensure you make an informed decision using Johnson as a guidepost.
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