Just days after the announcement of Prince’s death, media coverage revealed that the pop icon had died without a will. It seems strangely out of character, given how obsessively he controlled everything else in his life – copyrights, creative oversight, and releases – but all too true. His estate, his alleged vault of unreleased music, and all that he had worked so hard to build over the course of his life would have to go to probate (a legal process is used to identify, value, and divvy up a person’s assets in the absence of a will).
Attorneys, who have been designated by the estate’s executor, are currently sorting through the estate, trying to determine the value of his assets and determine how they should be divided, and the fees are adding up. As of right now, they are slated to collect around two million dollars (and the cost is still rising). Are these fees justified – simply the cost of having to go to probate – or are they excessive? The following will examine this point and will provide tips on controlling attorney’s fees during the probate process.
Are the Fees Justified?
Without looking directly at the work that needs to be done on the Prince estate, it is difficult to say for certain whether or not the costs are justified. However, the idea of paying out two million for probate on any estate – even one as complex and vast as Prince’s – does seem a little excessive. Unfortunately, now that the attorneys have already done the work, controlling the fees may now be difficult. If the executor had done a little due diligence, things might have turned out differently.
Controlling Attorney’s Fees During Probate
Some states let attorneys charge a percentage fee on the amount of the estate. Illinois is not one of these states. This does not mean that fees do not spiral out of control here; it simply means that you will generally face one of two fee schedules for a probate case: a flat fee, or an hourly one. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages, and you must understand them in order to avoid overcharging on your probate case.
Hourly fees can quickly get out of control, especially if they are following a commonly used minimum increments. For example, if your attorney spends two minutes on a phone call on behalf of the estate, they may charge you for six minutes (one-tenth of an hour). This makes it critical that you take the time to review the minutes you are charged for, and that you inquire about anything that does not make sense to you.
Flat fee attorneys do not charge hourly, so you do not have to worry as much about the “billable hours.” This can make for a more relaxed experience, but you might also be surprised to learn that certain elements are not covered in your fee. Make sure you understand what expenses are covered and which might be considered “extras” in your case (i.e. postage, filing fees, appraiser fees, etc.).
Regardless of which type of attorney you decide is most appropriate for your probate case, you should always request a fee agreement that outlines when and how you will be billed for services rendered. This agreement should cover:
- The type (hourly or flat) and the amount;
- An estimate of the overall cost for your case or number of hours );
- Who your contact will be with the law firm;
- How costs and expenses will be described in the billing process;
- How frequently you will be billed; and
- When payments will be due.
Our Attorneys Offer Affordable, Quality Legal Representation
At Drost, Gilbert, Andrew & Apicella, LLC, we understand how frustrating it can be to watch attorney’s fees rack up. That is why we offer skilled but affordable estate planning services to our clients in Arlington Heights, Long Grove, Barrington, and the surrounding areas. Dedicated to your interests, and to ensuring that your case is handled with the utmost level of care, we use creative and innovative solutions to improve the outcome of your case. Contact our Kenilworth estate planning attorneys today for more information.
About the Author: Attorney Jay Andrew is a founding partner of Drost, Gilbert, Andrew & Apicella, LLC. He is a graduate of the University of Dayton School of Law and has been practicing in estate planning, probate, trust administration, real estate law, residential/ commercial leasing, contracts, and civil litigation. Since 2005, Jay has been a Chair of the Mock Trial Committee for the Annual Northwest Suburban Bar Association High School Mock Trial Invitation which serves over 240 local Illinois students each year.