Beneficiaries of a will not entitled to receive estimate of legal costs

Mar 22, 2017

We now have a very peculiar situation and law in Ireland that the beneficiaries under a will, who ultimately pay the legal fees of the administration of an estate, are not entitled to be given a quote for costs at the start of the process.

The Law Society (primarily through its Complaints and Client Relations Committee), when considering complaints from beneficiaries that they did not receive a section 68 letter (that’s the solicitor’s charging letter), acknowledged the distinction between complaints from those beneficiaries out of whose share of the estate costs will be deducted and complaints from any other class of beneficiaries.

The Law Society took the view that the beneficiary indirectly paying costs should receive a copy of the section 68 letter furnished to the legal personal representative. This was the view of the High Court in Condon v Law Society of Ireland (2010) IEHC 5  and Sandys & anor -v- Law Society of Ireland 2015 IEHC 363.

The recent decision of the Court of Appeal in Sandys & anor -v- Law Society of Ireland in 2016 does not support this view.

“Client” for the purpose of section 68 in the view of the Court of Appeal is limited to the client giving instructions. In the cases outlined above, the “client” giving instructions was a solicitor executor and following the judgment is not obliged by statute as solicitor to furnish those beneficiaries with a copy of the section 68 letter. The issue of whether a solicitor executor should furnish himself or herself with a section 68 letter was not before the Court.

Paragraph 57 of the judgment states:

“If, in accordance with this construction, a firm of solicitors provides a section 68 letter to executors, or in the case of a sole practitioner, perhaps to himself at the commencement of the administration of an estate, there may be a separate question as to what obligation he or she owes as executor to furnish the section 68 letter at the time it is issued to any beneficiary who will ultimately in reality be paying those costs in the sense that they will come out of that person’s entitlement under the estate.”

This is not good news for solictors or for the public. Transparency on costs ( and quotes in advance) ultimately assists all parties to a deal. Its also fair to the consumer and avoids disputes at the end.

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