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Trustees battle late artist's trust for $60 million in fees

The three trustees of the estate of a deceased Florida artist are now pursuing nearly $60 million in trustee fees. The trustees were friends of late pop artist Robert Rauschenberg, who died in 2008 and left a $600 million estate to a trust which would primarily benefit the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. The foundation's mission is to manage Mr. Rauschenberg's art and support charitable endeavors and other artists. The three friends were enlisted by Mr. Rauschenberg to administer and manage the trust.

The trustees' lawsuit has been in process for several years, but is expected to go to trial this year. A court document filed by the trustees' lawyer says their management of the trust has increased the trust's assets to a value of more than two billion dollars. The trustees say that they had to deal with complicated copyright and tax issues and that their fees were reasonable given the complexity of the estate administration.

Mr. Rauschenberg's family claims that the request for $60 million in fees is exorbitant and conflicts with the charitable nature of the trust. One expert witness said that the trustees had already paid themselves $5.7 million in fees, and that those fees were disproportionate to the work that had actually been performed. Mr. Rauschenberg had not reached an agreement with any of the trustees about fees for their efforts. The trustees also reportedly did not track their time or keep detailed accounting of their efforts or trust expenditures.

Trusts are often effective tools for directing the flow of one's assets after death. However, any issues not properly documented could lead to disputes later. An estate planning attorney may be able to advise a client on appropriate ways to protect and preserve assets for ultimate distribution.

Source: News Daily, "Late artist's trustees seeking $60 million in fees", Tamara Lush, January 06, 2014

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