Dear Dale: I have some questions about being an executor of a will. When an attorney is appointed to be the executor of a family member s will, how is the attorney paid for his services? How is the attorney held accountable for his honesty and integrity in handling the execution of the will? And, does the attorney have an obligation to make a financial accounting to the beneficiaries of his fees?
ANSWER: Ohio and local rules specify how executors and attorneys can be compensated. Executors and attorneys serve different functions in how estates are handled through the Probate Court.
Let s start with the role of the executor. The executor administers the estate of a decendent who had a will.
This person can be a family member, a trusted third party, a lawyer, a bank, or a trust company. This can be a big job that includes responsibilities such as receiving payments owed to the estate, paying debts owed by the estate, determining the estate s beneficiaries, and following the Probate Court s orders concerning the estate.
An executor has a duty to act in the best interest of the estate and to carry out all state-law- mandated responsibilities. Acting in the capacity of an executor can be a time-consuming job for which state law allows compensation.
Under state law, an executor of an estate involving a will can receive a commission of 4 percent of the first $100,000 of the estate; 3 percent above $100,000 and below $400,000, and 2 percent above $400,000. So, for example, if you were the executor of an estate valued at $200,000, you could receive $4,000 for the first $100,000 and $3,000 for the next $100,000 for a total of $7,000. An executor also can receive commissions for other activities, but my space is too limited to include a laundry list here.
Whether or not the attorney acts as the executor doesn t matter in terms of the legal obligations imposed.
The executor must carry out the obligations mandated by law, must act in good-faith, and must account to the Probate Court for expenditures made on behalf of the estate and for the fees received for those services.
If an executor does not meet the obligations imposed by law, the Probate Court can remove the executor.
You also asked about whether an executor has to make an accounting to the beneficiaries. At a time specified by state law, the executor has to make an accounting to the Probate Court and the beneficiaries.
But that doesn t mean that a beneficiary has the right to demand an accounting of the executor whenever he or she wants that information.
Because you intertwined the roles of attorneys and executors in your question, I want to address compensation for attorneys. It s not hard to imagine that the duties of an executor can become pretty overwhelming, especially if an estate contains a lot of assets or debts. Executors often hire an attorney to help sort out the estate and to handle the legal work with the Probate Court.
Attorneys can set their own hourly fees for estate work. They also can elect to be compensated in an amount set by the Probate Court. In Lucas County, the schedule for attorney fees on probate assets is 4.5 percent of the first $100,000; 3.5 percent of the next $300,000, and 2.5 percent of the remaining balance.
Dale Emch practices law at the Charles E. Boyk Law Offices, LLC, in Toledo. In his column, he will discuss general legal principles and answer readers questions. Neither Mr. Emch nor The Blade present or intend his column to be taken as legal advice. Readers seeking legal advice should consult with an attorney. Readers should send their questions to Mr. Emch at firstname.lastname@example.org or Dale Emch, 405 Madison Ave., Suite 1200, Toledo, OH 43604.