Legal Memorandum: Standards for Determining Attorney Fees

Issue: Under the laws of Pennsylvania, what are the legal standards governing the amount of legal fees paid to a co-trustee?

Area of Law: Estate Planning & Probate, Ethics & Professional Responsibility
Keywords: Attorney fees; Reasonable and just; Trustee
Jurisdiction: Pennsylvania
Cited Cases: 509 A.2d 369; 334 Pa. 389; 115 A. 865; 327 Pa. 258; 6 A.2d 73; 272 Pa. 8; 24 A. 623; 675 A.2d 306; 193 A. 1
Cited Statutes: Pa. Rule of Professional Conduct 1.5(a)
Date: 08/01/2015

The Orphans’ Court “‘has the authority to reduce to a “reasonable and just” level those fees and commissions claimed by the fiduciary and their counsel.'”  In re Estate of Geniviva, 450 Pa. Super. 54, 68, 675 A.2d 306, 313 (1996). 

Attorney’s fees in an estate are based on the reasonable value of the services rendered . . .   The facts and factors to be taken into consideration in determining the fee or compensation payable to an attorney include: the amount of work performed; the character of the services rendered; the difficulty of the problems involved; the importance of the litigation; the amount of money or value of the property in question; the degree of responsibility incurred; whether the fund involved was “created” by the attorney; the professional *135 skill and standing of the attorney in his profession; the results he was able to obtain; the ability of the client to pay a reasonable fee for the services rendered; and, very importantly, the amount of money or the value of the property in question.

Dorsett v. Hughes, 353 Pa. Super. 129, 134-36, 509 A.2d 369, 371-72 (1986) (footnotes and citations omitted); see also Pa. Rule of Professional Conduct 1.5(a).

The courts have consistently turned to the following language in determining the reasonableness of attorney fees: 

The amount of fees to be allowed to counsel, always a subject of delicacy, if not difficulty, is one peculiarly within the discretion […]


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