Florida Estate Planning and Probate Law Blog focused on recent case law and planning ideas.

A FLORIDA TRUSTEES OBLIGATIONS TO TRUST BENEFICIARIES

In the case of Bain v. McIntosh (U.S. Ct. App., 11th Cir., No. 14-13836, March 2, 2015) the U.S. Court of Appeals held that a Florida attorney, hired to represent a trustee does not owe a fiduciary duty to the trust beneficiaries. The beneficiaries of the Florida Trust sued the attorney for breach of fiduciary duty. The attorney argued he did not owe a duty to the beneficiaries because he was hired to represent the Florida Trustee. The trial court granted summary judgment to the attorney and the beneficiaries appealed.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed, holding that an attorney retained to represent a trustee does not owe a fiduciary duty to the trust beneficiaries. According to the court, Florida regulations and case law have not expanded a lawyer's fiduciaries duties to anyone other than the trustee.

THE REASONABLENESS OF FLORIDA PROBATE LEGAL FEES

The Florida 2nd District Court of Appeals, in Faulkner v. Woodruff (Fla. Ct. App., 2nd Dist., No. 2D13-2165, March 6, 2015) recently held that a Florida Personal Representative may petition a probate court to review the reasonableness of attorneys' fees, and that the burden of proving attorneys' fees are reasonable is on the attorneys.
 
As personal representative of an estate, Gary Faulkner hired the Woodruff Law Firm to assist in administration. The estate was uncontested and consisted of $4,594.02 in personal property and a house that sold for $150,000. The attorneys charged $39,869.24 for work in the administrative proceeding. Mr. Faulkner filed a petition with the probate court to review the reasonableness of the attorneys' fees. The probate court dismissed the petition, holding that Mr. Faulkner was required to interplead himself because the burden of proving reasonableness of attorneys' fees was on him. Mr. Faulkner appealed.
 
The 2nd DCA reversed the Florida Probate Court and held that a Florida Personal Representative may petition the probate court to review the reasonableness of attorneys' fees. According to the court, as "the party seeking fees, [the attorneys] have the burden of proof to establish that their fees are reasonable."