In general, a Personal Representative of a decedent’s estate may not pay legal fees out of the probate estate without first getting approval from the Orphan’s Court overseeing the estate administration. A Personal Representative has to be careful about this rule. For example, if the Personal Representative hires a lawyer to prepare a deed, oftentimes, the deed preparer will simply send a bill for services without notifying the Personal Representative of his or her duty to get court authorization to pay that bill. It would be improper for the Personal Representative to simply pay that bill without obtaining court authorization to do so.
Similarly, a Personal Representative should get court authorization to pay any legal fees incurred before death. There are two exceptions to obtaining such prior authorization. Some might argue that such authorization would not be required if the lawyer whose fees are being paid files a claim in the estate for such fees, and the Personal Representative pays the claim, which payment is reflected on an estate administration account (the argument being that such payment is the payment of a claim and not payment of legal fees, per se); however, the conservative way to do so would still be to obtain court authorization, or to pay such amount using the method discussed in the paragraph below.
Another method for paying legal fees incurred by the decedent before death is for the Personal Representative to provide all interested persons and all unpaid creditors with a Notice of the Personal Representative’s intention to pay such legal fees. That notice will provide the interested persons and unpaid creditors with a time period in which such persons could object to such payment, and if such objection is properly and timely made, the Orphans Court will hold a hearing to determine how much of such fee is to be paid using estate funds. If no objections are made within the allowable time, however, then the Personal Representative may pay such legal fees incurred before death with no further court action. There is a particular rule of court that allows legal fees to be paid in this manner.
William M. Gatesman is skilled in the various methods of paying legal fees from a probate estate and assists clients with the proper administration of estates, including the payment of legal fees using estate assets. As stated elsewhere on this website, these article are of general interest and readers should not consider these articles to constitute legal advice. William M. Gatesman stands ready to give legal advice to particular clients in jurisdictions where he is licensed to practice law. Please contact Mr. Gatesman if you would like to obtain legal advice regarding the matters addressed on this website.