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Farmer holding clipboard with tractor in background and Legal Groundwork Series title

We discussed long-term care (LTC) costs in our April 20 blog post and analyzed recent data to project that a 65-year-old Ohioan, on average, can expect about $100,000 in LTC costs, and double that for a married couple.  In this post, we continue to examine LTC costs by addressing an important question for farmers:  can the average farmer absorb this cost without jeopardizing the farm and farm assets? 

First, we need to remember that any income received by the farmer could be spent on paying the LTC costs.  Farm income, land rent, social security income, and income from investments can all pay for LTC costs.  After income is used to pay for LTC care costs, non-farm assets, like savings, can be used to pay for the costs. It’s the portion of the LTC costs that income and savings cannot cover that causes farm assets to be at risk.  For example, if the farmer has $40,000 in savings, using that savings to pay LTC leaves only $60,000 of farm assets at risk.

Let’s next turn to the risk to farm assets.  While a farmer would never want to sell any farm asset to pay for LTC, their land is probably the last asset they would want sold.  Most farmers would sell grain, crops, livestock, and machinery before they would sell land.  So, if income and savings cannot pay for LTC care costs, how at risk is the land?  Data can also help us answer this question.  According to the Economic Research Service – USDA (ERS), the total amount of non-real estate, farm assets owned by farmers in the US for 2020 were as follows:

                        Financial Assets                                 $92,013,020,000

                        Inventory (crops, livestock, inputs)      $62,866,872,000

                        Machinery                                          $278,809,055,000

                        Total Non-Real Estate Farm Assets   $533,688,897,000

The ERS further estimates that there were 2.02 million farmers in the US in 2020.  So, on average, farmers owned $264,202 of non-real estate, farm assets.  If income and savings are unable to pay for LTC costs, the average farmer would have an additional $264,202 of assets to sell before needing to sell real estate. 

So, what does all this data tell us?  On average, if farmers are forced to sell farm assets to pay for LTC, they will not need to sell their land.  They may need to sell crops, livestock and/or machinery to help pay for the LTC costs but the land is probably safe.  That is the good news.

The bad news is the above analysis is all based on averages.  When dealing with large numbers, averages are very useful.  We can say with some confidence that on average, a 65-year-old farmer in Ohio will spend around $100,000 on LTC.  However, the numbers cannot tell us with any certainty what a specific farmer will spend on LTC. Farmer Smith in Delaware County, Ohio might never pay any LTC costs, might pay the average of $100,000 or they might be an outlier.  An outlier is someone whose specific circumstances end up being significantly different than the average.

Being an outlier is what farmers are really concerned about regarding LTC.  We all know someone, or have heard of someone, who was in a nursing home for 10 years.  That’s close to $1 million in LTC costs.  Few farmers have the income, savings and non-real estate assets to pay for $1 million of LTC. 

So, what LTC planning for farmers really ends up being is protecting against the outlier scenario that puts the land at risk.  Most 65-year-old farmers would probably sleep well at night if they knew they would only have $100,000 of LTC costs for the rest of their lives.  That amount of LTC costs is probably not going to cause a farm liquidation.  What keeps farmers up at night is the chance they will be the outlier and spend 10 years in an expensive nursing home.

The outlier scenario is important for farmers to understand as they develop their LTC strategy.  For any risk management plan, the true nature of the risk must be understood and not just presumed.  The fact is most farms can probably withstand the average LTC costs.  It is also factual that most farms cannot withstand an outlier scenario of being in a nursing home for many years.  This understanding is critical in developing a LTC plan.  That is, the LTC plan should probably seek to mitigate the risk of being an outlier, not on being average.

Fortunately, there are strategies to help mitigate the risk of losing the farm to the outlier scenario, although each of the strategies have significant drawbacks.  In future posts, we will discuss those strategies.

Oil and gas well pump.
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Monday, April 25th, 2022

One of the core principles of the American legal system is that people are free to enter into contracts and negotiate those terms as they see fit.  But sometimes the law prohibits certain rights from being “signed away.”  The interplay between state and federal law and the ability to contract freely can be a complex and overlapping web of regulations, laws, precedent, and even morals.  Recently, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled on a case that demonstrates the complex relationship between Ohio law and the ability of parties to negotiate certain terms within an oil and gas lease.     

The Background.  Ascent Resources-Utica, L.L.C. (“Defendant”) acquired leases to the oil and gas rights of farmland located in Jefferson County, Ohio allowing it to physically occupy the land which included the right to explore the land for oil and gas, construct wells, erect telephone lines, powerlines, and pipelines, and to build roads.  The leases also had a primary and secondary term language that specified that the leases would terminate after five years unless a well is producing oil or gas or unless Defendant had commenced drilling operations within 90 days of the expiration of the five-year term. 

After five years had passed, the owners of the farmland in Jefferson County (“Plaintiffs”) filed a lawsuit for declaratory judgment asking the Jefferson County Court of Common Pleas to find that the oil and gas leases had expired because of Defendant’s failure to produce oil or gas or to commence drilling within 90 days.  Defendant counterclaimed that the leases had not expired because it had obtained permits to drill wells on the land and had begun constructing those wells before the expiration of the leases.  Defendant also moved to stay the lawsuit, asserting that arbitration was the proper mechanism to determine whether the leases had expired, not a court. 

What is Arbitration and is it Legal?  Arbitration is a method of resolving disputes, outside of the court system, in which two contracting parties agree to settle a dispute using an independent, impartial third party (the “arbitrator”).  Arbitration usually involves presenting evidence and arguments to the arbitrator, who will then decide how the dispute should be settled.  Arbitration can be a quicker, less burdensome method of resolving a dispute. Because of this, parties to a contract will often agree to forgo their right to sue in a court of law, and instead, abide by any arbitration decision.   

Ohio law also recognizes the rights of parties to agree to use arbitration, rather than a court, to settle a dispute.  Ohio Revised Code § 2711.01(A) provides that “[a] provision in any written contract, except as provided in [§ 2711.01(B)], to settle by arbitration . . . shall be valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, except upon grounds that exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract.”  What this means is that Ohio will enforce arbitration clauses contained within a contract, except in limited circumstances.  One of those limited circumstances arises in Ohio Revised Code § 2711.01(B).  § 2711.01(B)(1) provides that “[s]ections 2711.01 to 2711.16 . . . do not apply to controversies involving the title to or the possession of real estate . . .”  Because land and real estate are so precious, Ohio will not enforce an arbitration clause when the controversy involves the title to or possession of land or other real estate.  

To be or not to be?  After considering the above provisions of the Ohio Revised Code, the Jefferson County Court of Common Pleas denied Defendant’s request to stay the proceedings pending arbitration.  The Common Pleas Court concluded that Plaintiffs’ claims involved the title to or possession of land and therefore was exempt from arbitration under Ohio law.  However, the Seventh District Court of Appeals disagreed with the Jefferson County court.  The Seventh District reasoned that the controversy was not about title to land or possession of land, rather it was about the termination of a lease, and therefore should be subject to the arbitration provisions within the leases.   

The case eventually made its way to the Ohio Supreme Court, which was tasked with answering one single question: is an action seeking to determine that an oil and gas lease has expired by its own terms the type of controversy “involving the title to or the possession of real estate” so that the action is exempt from arbitration under Ohio Revised Code § 2711.01(B)(1)? 

The Ohio Supreme Court determined that yes, under Ohio law, an action seeking to determine whether an oil and gas lease has expired by its own terms is not subject to arbitration.  The Ohio Supreme Court reasoned that an oil and gas lease grants the lessee a property interest in the land and constitutes a title transaction because it affects title to real estate.  Additionally, the Ohio Supreme Court found that an oil and gas lease affects the possession of land because a lessee has a vested right to the possession of the land to the extent reasonably necessary to carry out the terms of the lease.  Lastly, the Ohio Supreme Court provided that if the conditions of the primary term or secondary term of an oil and gas lease are not met, then the lease terminates, and the property interest created by the oil and gas lease reverts back to the owner/lessor.  

In reaching its holding, the Ohio Supreme Court concluded that Plaintiffs’ lawsuit is exactly the type of controversy that involves the title to or the possession of real estate.  If Plaintiffs are successful, then it will quiet title to the farmland, remove the leases as encumbrances to the property, and restore the possession of the land to the Plaintiffs.  If Plaintiffs are unsuccessful, then title to the land will remain subject to the terms of the leases which affects the transferability of the land.  Additionally, the Ohio Supreme Court concluded that if Plaintiffs were unsuccessful then Defendant would have the continued right to possess and occupy the land.  Therefore, the Ohio Supreme Court found that Plaintiffs’ controversy regarding the termination of oil and gas leases is the type of controversy that is exempt from arbitration clauses under § 2711.01(B)(1). 

Conclusion.  Although Ohio recognizes the ability of parties to freely negotiate and enter into contracts, there are cases when the law will step in to override provisions of a contract.  The determination of title to and possession of real property is one of those instances.  Such a determination can have drastic and long-lasting effects on the property rights of individuals.  Therefore, as evidenced by this Ohio Supreme Court ruling, Ohio courts will not enforce an arbitration provision when the controversy is whether or not oil and gas leases have terminated.  To read more of the Ohio Supreme Court’s Opinion visit: https://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/0/2022/2022-Ohio-869.pdf.

 

 

Farmer holding clipboard with tractor in background and Legal Groundwork Series title

By Robert Moore, Attorney and Research Specialist, OSU Agricultural & Resource Law Program

There is no doubt that Long-Term Care (LTC) costs are a financial threat to many farms.  Some farmers go to great lengths to protect their farm assets from potential LTC costs.  Protection strategies include gifting assets to family members, transferring farm assets to irrevocable trusts and buying LTC insurance.  But what do the statistics say about the actual risk to farms for LTC costs?

According to the Administration for Community Living, someone turning age 65 today has an almost 70% chance of needing some type of long-term care services in their remaining years.  Due to women having longer life expectancies, predictions are that women will need an average of 3.7 years of care and men will need 2.2 years.  While one-third of today's 65-year-olds may never need long-term care support, 20% will need it for longer than 5 years.  The following data from the ACL provides more details as to the type and length of care needed:

This table shows that of the three years of LTC needed on average, two of those years are expected to be provided at home and one year in a facility.  It is noteworthy that a majority of LTC services are typically provided at home because most people do not want to leave home for a facility, some at-home care isn’t paid for, and home care is less expensive than facility care.  Many people may think all LTC will be provided in a facility, but as the data shows, this is not usually the case.

The next important statistic is cost.  The following are costs of various LTC services from the 2021 Cost of Care Survey provided by Genworth Financial, Inc. 

Nursing home costs are significantly higher than in-home services.  People may think of LTC costs in terms of nursing homes, but as discussed in the previous paragraph, the majority of LTC services are the less expensive, in-home type. So, while all LTC costs are significant, they might not be as high as commonly thought.

Let’s use this data to come up with some possible numbers for an Ohio farmer.  Assume the following:

  • A 65year-old farmer has a 67% chance of needing LTC
  • The length of that care will be around 3 years
  • 1 year of care will be unpaid inhome services
  • 1 year of care will be paid, inhome services at around $60,000/year
  • 1 year of care will be in a nursing home at around $90,000/year

Based on the above assumptions, a 65-year-old Ohioan, on average, can expect about $100,000 in LTC care costs ($60,000 + $90,000 x 67%). Keep in mind that these costs are per person and a married couple will have double these potential costs. The next question is, can the average farmer absorb LTC costs without jeopardizing the farm?  That's a question we'll examine in a future post in the Legal Groundwork Series.

 

Tractor preparing fields for planting season, with Farm Office Live information overlay.
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Tuesday, April 19th, 2022

April showers brings . . . Farm Office Live! That's right, this month's Farm Office Live returns this week! Catch up on all the recent legal, tax, and farm management information that affects your farm office! 

The Farm Office Team of Dianne Shoemaker, David Marrison, Peggy Kirk Hall, Barry Ward, Robert Moore, and Jeff Lewis will provide an update and disscussion on: 

  • State and Federal Legislation 
  • LLC Liability Protection 
  • 2021 Midwest Farm Performance
  • Fertilizer and Crop Budgets
  • FSA Programs
  • The Ohio General Assembly's Website 

Catch Farm Office Live this Friday, April 22 from 10:00 - 11:30 AM.  Unable to make it? Not registered? Don't worry because you can register for, or watch a replay of, this month's Farm Office Live at go.osu.edu/farmofficelive. We look forward to seeing you there! 

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Farmer holding clipboard with tractor in background and Legal Groundwork Series title

By Robert Moore, Attorney and Research Specialist, OSU Agricultural & Resource Law Program

Most farmers do a great job of managing their taxable income.  They buy inputs or machinery to offset the current year’s income and wait until next year to sell the current crop.  This strategy works well but it catches up to the retiring farmer.  In the year of retirement, a farmer may find themselves with an entire year (or more) of crops or livestock to sell and no expenses to offset the income.  Additionally, machinery and equipment that will no longer be needed for production will need to be sold.  Selling all these assets upon retirement without offsetting expenses can result in tremendous tax liability.

One strategy for retiring farmers to consider is using a Charitable Remainder Trust (CRT).  The CRT is a special kind of trust that can sell assets without triggering tax liability while providing annual income for the retiring farmer.  The CRT essentially spreads out the income from the sale of the assets over many years to keep the farmer in a lower tax rate bracket.  Also, the CRT allows the retiring farmer to make a charitable donation to their charity of choice.

The primary component of a CRT strategy is that a CRT does not pay tax upon the sale of assets.  Due to its charitable nature, a CRT can sell assets and pay no capital gains tax nor depreciation recapture tax.  The retiring farmer establishes a CRT then transfers the assets they want to sell into the CRT.  The CRT then sells the assets.  For the strategy to work, the trust must be a CRT.  A non-charitable trust will owe taxes upon the sale of the assets.

The proceeds from the sale of the assets are then invested in a financial account.  The farmer works with an investment advisor to determine the desired annual income needed from the proceeds and then an appropriate investment portfolio is created.  It is important to note that income calculations must include leaving at least 10% of the principal to a charity.  The farmer may not receive all the income or the trust will not qualify as a charitable trust.  The term of the payments from the investment portfolio cannot exceed 20 years.

After the financial account is established, the farmer will receive annual income.  This income is taxed at the farmer’s individual tax rate.  By paying the sale proceeds out over a number of years, the farmer’s income tax bracket can be moderated.  Selling all assets in one year would likely cause the farmer to be pushed into the highest income tax and capital gains tax bracket, so spreading out the income keeps the farmer in a lower tax bracket.

Another important component of a CRT is the charitable giving requirement.  As stated above, the farmer must plan to give 10% of the principal to a charity.  The funds are provided to the charity when the term of the investment expires or when the farmer dies.  Depending on the performance of the investment, the charity may receive more than 10% or less than 10%.  The farmer must be able to show that when the investment account was established, the intention was for the charity to receive at least 10% of the original principal.

Consider the following examples, one with a CRT and one without.

Scenario without CRT.  Farmer decided to retire after the 2021 crop year.  Farmer owned $800,000 of machinery and $200,000 of grain.  Farmer sold all the grain and machinery before the end of 2021.  Farmer owed tax on $100,000 of ordinary income due to depreciation recapture on the machinery and sale proceeds of the grain.  Farmer’s tax liability was $450,000 for the sale of the assets.

Scenario with CRT.  Farmer established a CRT and transfered the machinery and grain into the CRT.  The CRT sold the machinery and grain but did not pay tax on the sale proceeds due to its charitable status.  Farmer established an annuity to pay out over 20 years.  Each year Farmer receives $65,000 of income from the CRT.  Farmer pays income tax on the payment but at a much lower rate than the previous scenario.  At the end of the 20-year term, a charity receives $150,000 (original 10% of principal plus interest).

As the scenarios show, A CRT can save significant taxes for the retiring farmer. Also, a CRT allows a retiring farmer to make a charitable contribution to their charity of choice.

A retirement strategy using a CRT is not without its disadvantages.  One disadvantage is the cost to implement the plan.  A CRT plan is complicated and requires the assistance of an attorney, accountant, and financial advisor.  The combined professional fees could be $25,000 or more.  Another disadvantage is the inflexible nature of the plan.  The CRT is an irrevocable trust; once the CRT is implemented the plan cannot be changed.  If the retired farmer finds they need more income than allocated from the CRT, they are unable to make such a change.

Anyone considering retiring from farming should explore the possibility of incorporating a CRT into their plan.  CRTs can save significant income taxes and provide for charitable giving, but it’s not for everyone.  The potential tax savings must be enough to justify the significant costs to establish the CRT and the farmer must be willing to give up control of the sale proceeds.  Retiring farmers should consult with their attorney, accountant and/or financial advisor to assess how a CRT might fit into their retirement plan.

 

Photo of Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio
By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Friday, April 08th, 2022

UPDATE:  Governor DeWine signed H.B. 95, the Beginning Farmer bill, on April 18, 2022.  The effective date for the new law is July 18, 2022.  The Governor signed the Statutory Lease Termination bill, H.B. 397, on April 21, and its effective date is July 19, 2022.

Bills establishing new legal requirements for landowners who want to terminate a verbal or uncertain farm lease and income tax credits for sales of assets to beginning farmers now await Governor DeWine’s response after passing in the Ohio legislature this week.  Predictions are that the Governor will sign both measures.

Statutory termination requirements for farm leases – H.B. 397

Ohio joins nine other states in the Midwest with its enactment of a statutory requirement for terminating a crop lease that doesn’t address termination.  The legislation sponsored by Rep. Brian Stewart (R-Ashville) and Rep. Darrell Kick (R-Loudonville) aims to address uncertainty in farmland leases, providing protections for tenant operators from late terminations by landowners.  It will change how landowners conduct their farmland leasing arrangements, and will hopefull encourage written farmland leases that clearly address how to terminate the leasing arrangement.

The bill states that in either a written or verbal farmland leasing situation where the agreement between the parties does not provide for a termination date or a method for giving notice of termination, a landlord who wants to terminate the lease must do so in writing by September 1.  The termination would be effective either upon completion of harvest or December 31, whichever is earlier.  Note that the bill applies only to leases that involve planting, growing, and harvesting of crops and does not apply to leases for pasture, timber, buildings, or equipment and does not apply to the tenant in a leasing agreement.  A lease that addresses how and when termination of the leasing arrangement may occur would also be unaffected by the new provisions.

The beginning farmer bill – H.B. 95

A long time in the making, H.B. 95 is the result of a bi-partisan effort by Rep. Susan Manchester (R-Waynesfield) and Rep. Mary Lightbody (D-Westerville).  It authorizes two types of tax credits for “certified beginning farmer” situations. The bill caps the tax credits at $10 million, and sunsets credits at the end of the sixth calendar year after they become effective.

The first tax credit is a nonrefundable income tax credit for an individual or business that sells or rents CAUV qualifying farmland, livestock, facilities, buildings or machinery to a “certified beginning farmer.”  A late amendment in the Senate Ways and Means Committee reduced that credit to 3.99% of the sale price or gross rental income.  The bill requires a sale credit to be claimed in the year of the sale but spreads the credit amount for rental and share-rent arrangements over the first three years of the rental agreement.  It also allows a carry-forward of excess credit up to 7 years.  Note that equipment dealers and businesses that sell agricultural assets for profit are not eligible for the tax credit, and that an individual or business must apply to the Ohio Department of Agriculture for tax credit approval.

The second tax credit is a nonrefundable income tax credit for a “certified beginning farmer” for the cost of attending a financial management program.  The program must be certified by the Ohio Department of Agriculture, who must develop standards for program certification in consultation with Ohio State and Central State.  The farmer may carry the tax credit forward for up to three succeeding tax years.

Who is a certified beginning farmer?  The intent of the bill is to encourage asset transition to beginning farmers, and it establishes eligibility criteria for an individual to become “certified” as a beginning farmer by the Ohio Department of Agriculture.  One point of discussion for the bill was whether the beginning farmer credit would be available for family transfers.  Note that the eligibility requirements address this issue by requiring that there cannot be a business relationship between the beginning farmer and the owner of the asset. 

An individual can become certified as a beginning farmer if he or she:

  • Intends to farm or has been farming for less than ten years in Ohio.
  • Is not a partner, member, shareholder, or trustee with the owner of the agricultural assets the individual will rent or purchase.
  • Has a household net worth under $800,000 in 2021 or as adjusted for inflation in future years.
  • Provides the majority of day-to-day labor and management of the farm.
  • Has adequate knowledge or farming experience in the type of farming involved.
  • Submits projected earnings statements and demonstrates a profit potential.
  • Demonstrates that farming will be a significant source of income.
  • Participates in a financial management program approved by the Department of Agriculture.
  • Meets any other requirements the Ohio Department of Agriculture establishes through rulemaking.

We’ll provide further details about these new laws as they become effective.   Information on the statutory termination bill, H.B. 397, is here and information about the beginning farmer bill, H.B. 95, is here.  Note that provisions affecting other unrelated areas of law were added to both bills in the approval process.

Farmer holding clipboard and title of "Legal Groundwork Series, legal planning for the future of your farm"

By Robert Moore, Attorney and Research Specialist, Agricultural & Resource Law Program

Anyone who has ever been an Executor of an estate knows how much paperwork is involved with administering an estate.  The county probate court, which oversees the estate process, requires many filings to verify the assets the deceased person owned, determine the value of those estates and to ensure that the correct beneficiaries receive the assets.  Typically, administering an estate requires the assistance of an attorney familiar with probate rules and forms.

Like any professional providing services, attorneys will expect to be paid for their estate administration services.  Legal fees charged by an attorney for an estate must be approved by the probate court.  Many probate courts have established a schedule of fees that provides a benchmark for attorneys.  Basically, if the attorney’s legal fees are no more than the schedule of fees, the court will approve the fees.  The approved probate fees vary from county to county but are usually between 1% to 6% of the value of the estate. 

It is important to note that the court approved probate fees are a benchmark, not a requirement.  That is, the court is not requiring an attorney to charge those rates.  Instead, the court is merely stating that fees that do not exceed the benchmark will likely be approved.  It is up to each attorney to determine the fee structure to implement for their services.  Some attorneys may use the probate rates for fees while other attorneys may bill based on an hourly basis.

Before hiring an attorney, Executors should have a thorough discussion regarding the attorney’s fee structure.  The Executor should ask if the attorney charges on an hourly basis, flat rate basis or uses the county probate rates.  Based on the fee structure used, the attorney should be able to provide a good estimate of legal costs for the estate administration.  If the Executor has reason to believe the fees charged by the attorney may be too high, it’s helpful to consult with other attorneys who use a different fee structure and compare. 

Consider the following examples:

  • The county probate court allows a 2% legal fee rate for real estate that is not sold.  Joe passes away owning a $100,000 house.  Joe’s Will directs the house to be inherited by his daughter.  The attorney assisting with the estate administration uses fees based on the county rate.  The attorney will be entitled to $2,000 in legal fees.
  • Let’s change the scenario so that Joe owned a $1,000,000 farm when he passed away.  The attorney will be entitled to $20,000 in legal fees.

The above examples illustrate how probate rates work and also illustrates why executors should not automatically agree to pay the probate rates.  In the examples, the attorney basically does the same work – transfers one parcel of real estate to the daughter.  However, because the farm was worth ten times more in value, the attorney received ten times more in legal fees.

Let’s continue the scenario. 

  • The Executor thinks $20,000 in legal fees to transfer the farm may be too much.  The executor finds an attorney that charges hourly for estate administration, rather than using the county rates.  The attorney charges $200/hour and thinks it will take about 15 hours of work to have the farm transferred to Joe’s daughter.  Executor quickly decides to hire the second attorney and saves $17,000 in legal fees.

Often, probate rates can result in reasonable legal fees.  Charging $2,000 to transfer a $100,000 house is probably reasonable.  In some situations, particularly for smaller estates, the probate rates may be inadequate, and the attorney may seek permission from the court to charge in excess of the rates.  However, for farm estates, the county rates can result in excessive legal fees.  Due to the capital-intensive nature of farming, farm estates will tend to have a much higher value than typical, non-farm estates.  A modest farm estate of $5 million, at a 2% probate fee rate, will result in $100,000 of legal fees.  An attorney charging $250/hour would have to bill 400 hours to make those same legal fees.  A $5 million farm estate is not going to take 400 hours to administer.

Executors administering farm estates should carefully evaluate legal fees charged by the estate attorney.  Applying county probate rates to farm estates can result in very large legal fees.  Before agreeing to accept the probate rates as the fee structure, Executors should also inquire as to what legal fees would be if charged on an hourly basis.  After getting an estimate of legal fees for both fee structures, the Executor can then make an informed decision as to how best to proceed with legal counsel.