Maine law authorizes the personal representative of the estate to employ persons, including lawyers, auditors, investment advisors or agents, to advise or assist the personal representative with administrative duties. Generally, fees paid to persons employed by the personal representative are reimbursed to the personal representative by the estate; however, if these fees are not paid from the estate, they remain the personal obligation of the personal representative. While court review of estate fees and expenses is not routine, it is available. We discuss with personal representatives appropriate fees and expenses to be reimbursed from the estate. The estate’s liquidity, its income tax situation and the required work are factors meriting consideration.
When we represent a personal representative in the administration of an estate, we charge for our services based primarily on the amount of time spent by lawyers, paralegals and legal assistants. Each lawyer, paralegal and legal assistant at our firm has an hourly billing rate based upon experience and special expertise. These rates are raised from time to time to reflect increased experience and special expertise as well as inflationary costs affecting our practice. Adjusted rates apply to services performed after the adjustment.
In determining our fees, we also consider such factors as (1) the time and labor required, the novelty and difficulty of the questions involved and the requisite skill to perform the service properly; (2) the likelihood that our employment by the personal representative will preclude us from other employment; (3) the amount involved and the results obtained; (4) the time limits imposed by the personal representative or by circumstances; (5) the experience, reputation and ability of the person performing the services; and (6) any other factors that may be relevant under applicable rules of professional conduct.
Legal fees increase as the time necessary to complete various tasks increases. Accordingly, early identification of issues and presentation of questions are essential. Raising issues shortly before they require resolution will almost certainly increase the total time needed to resolve them and therefore will increase the cost of estate administration.
The more the personal representative (or other family members and friends) do, the less we will need to do. It may seem convenient for us to meet with all the decedent’s devisees to explain a legal point, for example, but it is less expensive for the estate if we can convey information to the personal representative and then rely on the personal representative to convey it to other interested parties. Written communication to all estate beneficiaries is also less expensive than speaking with each person individually. If a personal representative suggests doing something himself or herself that we think we can handle more efficiently, we let the personal representative know.
In addition to our fees, we bill for disbursements we incur. Disbursements are out-of-pocket costs we pay while working on your behalf. These charges include fees paid to the Probate Court or the Registry of Deeds, photocopying costs, facsimiles, express delivery charges, long-distance telephone charges, postage (for large packages) and similar items.
The final bill we render to an estate always relies, in part, on an estimate of the work that remains to be done in making final distribution of the estate’s assets. Some estimation is inevitable in the final bill, because the bill must be paid before final distribution of the estate’s assets; the fact that the estate has assets means that more work remains to finish distribution.
In very rare cases, an unanticipated issue can arise after we have rendered our final bill and a significant amount of unforeseen legal work will be necessary to resolve it. If the cost of this unanticipated work is substantial, we submit a supplemental bill to be paid from estate property that has already been distributed to devisees.