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Trustees of Florida artist's estate seek large fee award

Three men, who were appointed as trustees to administer a Florida artist's large estate and protect his charitable foundation, are now seeking fees from that estate in excess of $60 million. The foundation is contesting the fee claim in court in Florida and elsewhere.

The artist's estate was worth well over $600 million, according to a tax return filed in 2009. The three trustees, who were friends and business associates of the late artist, claim that they have earned the fees through the stress and work of maintaining the estate's assets and image. Though they did not keep records of the hours spent on the estate's administration, they say that the requested fees meet Florida law's requirement of being "reasonable."

The charitable foundation, of which, the artist's son is president, is contesting the fees. One expert hired by the foundation stated that a "reasonable" fee would be about $250 an hour, while the trustees were asking for $40,000 per hour, an amount the expert referred to as "unconscionable."

Estate planning is an important aspect of many people's lives, especially in Florida, even if their estates are not as large as this artist's. There are many factors that can relate to an estate plan, such as the testator's wishes in how assets are distributed, and who will be responsible for that distribution. One way to avoid delays and costs associated with probating estates is to set up a trust. It is essential, however, that anyone planning on setting up a trust explore the ramifications of the different kinds of trusts, and ensure that the trust instruments and the will document are completed in a manner that will be valid under state law.

Making certain that all legal precautions are taken is not a guarantee that no disputes will arise after one's death, but a proper estate plan guided by legal knowledge can be instrumental in reducing the chances of such wrangling. Testators should also make sure that anyone appointed to administer a trust or estate be someone that he or she, well, "trusts."

Source: New York Times, "Foundation Fights Fees for Artist's Trustees," Patricia Cohen, Aug. 21, 2013