Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia on July 30, 1972 · Page 124
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Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia · Page 124

Charleston, West Virginia
Issue Date:
Sunday, July 30, 1972
Page 124
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Page 124 article text (OCR)

at the University of Idaho Law School, who did an extensive analysis of the nearly 300 pages of the Uniform Probate Code. "Like almost anyone else, lawyers are unhappy when you introduce major changes in the way things are done," he says. "You repeal their knowledge, in effect. For example, the new Code eliminates a lot of the old delays simply by not worrying so much about the creditors of the deceased. I told the legislators: 'Why should we assume the heirs are going to be dishonest? We know that the average family is honest and pays its debts!' " Other lawyers feared that the new informal probate process would cut their legal income. But eventually Sen. Edith Klein and other lawyer-legislators who realized the public's profound dissatisfaction with outmoded probate won out, and Idaho put the new Code into effect last year on July 1. A typical case Professor Peterson outlined how simply a typical estate could be probated under the new Code: Most estates probated today involve less than $50,000 and a great many go from dead spouse to living one, usually from husband to wife, he said. "Suppose the husband leaves about $50,000 in his will to his wife as sole heir. A few days after his death the widow presents the will to her lawyer, who fills in an application for probate of the will and an application for her appointment as personal representative. Both papers are presented to the court, and she's appointed without having to file a notice or post a bond. After all, why should she have to post a bond-which might cost her $250 to $300-when she's the only beneficiary? Is she going to steal from herself? "Now there's just one thing more for the lawyer to do: he fills out her state inheritance tax return. And all this can be done easily in one working day. In the old days it could take months." Minimum fees set How much will the new simplified probate cost the widow ;vho inherited the $50,000? Most states have minimum fee schedules set up by bar associations. These schedules (which some critics label a form of illegal price fixing) usually call for the lawyer to receive a percentage of the total value of the estate. In Idaho, for example, a $50,000 estate could mean a legal fee of $1670. Lawyers charging less than that -could be haled before the Bar Ethics Committee. They might charge more, of course. "Once the State Bar realized how little actual work there would be for the lawyer in most estates under the new Code," Phil Peterson said, "they decided it would be unfair to stick to the old percentage basis. So in June, 1971, the Idaho State Bar passed a resolution to permit lawyers to handle estate and probate matters op an hourly fee basis." $1370 saved How much would he charge the widow-client who inherited the $50,000 in the example he gave? "I'm reasonably sure I could handle'this sort of case for $200 to $300 and not lose on it." In effect, the new Code would make possible an immediate $1370 saving in legal costs on this estate. Let's take another example. Suppose you're a widow and have just inherited $100,000 from your late husband. What would your legal and court costs be in Idaho, under-the new Probate Code, vs. Michigan, where the old system prevails? The figures are eye-opening. In Idaho, your legal costs would approximate $900; in Michigan, they would come to $4800, plus an additional $2000 if the attorney was also executor of the estate. Court costs? They would be $32 in Idaho vs. $947.50 in Michigan. And whereas you would have your inheritance within 32 days in Idaho, you would have to wait a minimum of nine months in Michigan. Powerful opposition Getting other states to follow Idaho's example will be a long-term extra task for Prof. Richard Wellman, who was chief draftsman of the new Code. He and several other leading law professors, judges and practicing lawyers worked on it during eight years without pay. "It won't be easy to get all 50 states^ to adopt the new Code," Professor Wellman says. "Some lawyers and lots of powerful probate judges hate it. But in the long run I think theCode will be one of the most important legal efforts made in this century." What can the average citizen do to get his state to adopt the Uniform Probate Code? Professor Wellman believes that the most effective means will be "pressure on elected state officials, par- licularly the legislators. Write them and tell them that you want the new Probate Code. It took the British 20 years to accomplish their probate reform. I think we can do it in much less time--if the voters let their state representatives know how much they want it." Presenting: The Terry Cloth Kobe You'd Almost Wear to a Party Oh, it's a Terry Cloth Robe, all right. Lushy. Plushy. Made of deep-as-velvet 100% cotton. 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