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fees and joint property

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My wife's mother recently passed and left assets of roughly $350K and a will which names my wife and her sister as beneficiaries at 50% each. My wife's sister is the personal representative and has asked my sister to sign a document that says that she will get 3% of all assets, plus expenses, as her fee.

Included in the $350K are several CD's worth roughly $100K that were registered in the name of the deceased "or" one of the sisters "or" one of the grandchildren. Another is registered as the deceased "in trust for" one of the grandchildren.

Article V of her will states she "gives and devises all my right, title and interest in any such property to the surviving joint owner thereof." Article V goes on to say "It is my understanding that all right, title, interest in and to such property will pass to such surviviang joint owner upon my death by operation of law, but I do nevertheless make these provisions in order to eliminate any question as to the right of such surviving joint owner to succeed to the ownership of such property upon my death and to provide for the possibility that a true joint tenancy with right of survivorship was not created during my lifetime."

My questions: 1)Is 3% a standard fee; 2) should the 3% be based on all the estate's assets at time of death or on the estate's assets less the CD's that are jointly registered; 3) what does the latter part of Article V mean?

Thanks in advance for any advice/clarifications you can give.




MAY 3, 2001


Congratulations on being named as a beneficiary--it's nice to be remembered by your loving relatives.

The correct term for your wife's sister is "executor" (the term "personal representative" would apply only if there was no will).

(1) The 3% executors fee is standard and reasonable, and so is being compensated for expenses.

(2) I'm not familiar with Florida law, so a Florida probate attorney is the only one who can specifically answer this question. But it seems that since the CD's go directly to the surviving joint owner, it is possible that they may not need to be included as part of the estate. But of course everything depends on how Florida probate law or business law is written.

I would assume that, given the significant value of this estate, that your wife's sister has hired the professional services of an attorney to guide her through the probate process. If this is true, then perhaps you could direct your question to him/her about whether the CD's should be included in the estate valuation and the interpretation of Article V. (Or, better yet, ask the attorney who originally drew up the will.)

(3) The latter part of Article V seems to mean that your wife's mother (or the attorney who drew up the will) realized that she may not have done everything 100% correctly (in naming beneficiaries on a bank account form or CD beneficiary form) but that the intent of her will is specifically that there be no arguments about what she intended and that whoever is named as the surviving joint owner on the particular CD is the person who should be receiving those monies.

The only thing I am concerned about that may need attention is the CD that is set up to be "in trust for" one of the grandchildren. You need to ask the attorney if that designation is legally correct (just as a designation on the CD beneficiary form) to stand as it is written (and also inform the grandchild of what the maturity date is on the CD so he/she will have some idea of when they can get access to their monies), or whether steps need to be taken to set up the paperwork for a legal trust to insure that a trustee has oversight of this CD to see that it is managed properly.


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