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Judicial ethics panel greenlights trust fee inquiry method

Judicial ethics panel greenlights trust fee inquiry method

Judicial ethics panel greenlights trust fee inquiry method

Judicial ethics panel greenlights trust fee inquiry method

OSCA logoSending letters to beneficiaries of a trust is a proper way for a judge to determine if they object to the payment of a reasonable fee for the judge’s services as a personal representative and trustee, the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee has concluded.

The April 1 opinion, No. 2024-03, notes that the inquiring judge was named personal representative and successor trustee of a trust in the judge’s stepfather’s will — and that the judge does not believe that service will interfere with judicial duties.

Cannon 5E(1) of the Code of Judicial Conduct prohibits a judge from serving as executor, administrator, or other personal representative, trustee, guardian, or attorney in fact or other fiduciary, “except for the estate, trust or person of a member of the judge’s family, and then only if such service will not interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties.”

The inquiring judge hired an attorney, and the estate is being probated in a circuit other than the one where the judge presides, “and the activities do not pose a likelihood of litigation before the court on which the judge serves,” the opinion notes.

Florida Statutes §§733.617 and 736.0708 “provide for a personal representative and trustee to be paid a reasonable fee for their services,” according to the opinion.

In Fla. JEAC Op. 1990-11, the committee concluded “it was proper for a judge to be paid a reasonable fee for services as a personal representative and trustee.”

The current inquiry is whether a letter to each beneficiary would be a proper way to determine if the beneficiaries object to the payment of a reasonable fee.

“The Committee agrees that such a letter to each beneficiary that affords a reasonable time to object in writing if they chose to do so is an acceptable manner to determine whether any beneficiary objects,” the opinion concludes.

Furthermore, “[i]f there is an objection, as long as the fee is reasonable pursuant to the applicable Florida law, there is nothing in the Code that would prevent payment of the fee, and any payment received is reportable income,” the committee concluded.

The Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee is charged with rendering advisory opinions to judges and judicial candidates on the application of the Code of Judicial Conduct to their circumstances. While judges and candidates may cite the opinion as evidence of good faith, the opinions are not binding on the Judicial Qualifications Commission.

Originally published at https://www.floridabar.org/the-florida-bar-news/judicial-ethics-panel-greenlights-trust-fee-inquiry-method/

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