Wills, Trusts, and Estates – Part 3

Church Law and Tax 1989-03-01 Recent Developments Wills, Trusts, and Estates Richard R. Hammar, J.D.,

Church Law and Tax 1989-03-01 Recent Developments

Wills, Trusts, and Estates

Are $525,000 in attorneys’ and executor fees incurred on behalf of an estate benefiting several charities excessive? That was the question before an Illinois state appeals court in a recent case. A decedent died in 1983, leaving a will that distributed her estate to various charities by means of a charitable trust. The estate was submitted to probate, and a lawsuit was filed seeking an interpretation of the will. The lawsuit eventually was settled out of court. Attorneys demanded $400,000 in fees, and the executor demanded an additional $125,000. The charities who were named as beneficiaries under the will, as well as the state attorney general, challenged the fees as “wasteful, duplicative, and unjustifiable,” and based on “inadequate itemization of work performed” and for “services not compensable by the estate.” The charities later agreed to settle the fee dispute, but the state attorney general refused to do so. The attorney general demanded a hearing to determine the reasonableness of the fees, but a trial court rejected this request on the ground that the attorney general did not have a sufficient interest in the case. A state appeals court reversed the trial court’s decision, voided the fee agreement, and ordered a hearing to determine the reasonableness of the fees. Under Illinois law, concluded the court, the attorney general “is the ultimate [beneficiary] to any charitable bequest in all actions concerning the enforcement or administration of a charitable trust,” and can intervene in any case where it appears necessary to preserve the assets of a charitable trust. Matter of the Estate of Laas, 525 N.E.2d 1089 (Ill. App. 1st Dist. 1988).

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