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Legalease
Legalease, Attorney
Category: Estate Law
Satisfied Customers: 14461
Experience:  15 yrs experience: Elder Law, Wills, Social Security Issues
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This question is in relation to my previous question regarding

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This question is in relation to my previous question regarding my deceased sister's estate. I am the Executrix of her estate and worked with Dwayne B. regarding the retrieval of some of my sister's belongings that had been left in a shed at her previous house, after her death and sale of the house, with the new owner's permission. He said that it was really a simple matter to have the new owner of her house turn over her belongings - just have the estate attorney send a letter to the owner requesting that the items be turned over to the estate then, failing that, file a turn over request with the probate court to have an order issued.

I met with the estate attorney on September 26 and requested that he do this. He charged $3,000, which I thought was high for the amount of work involved (according to Dwayne B.), and the value of the items ($4,000) but he said that the court would probably charge the defendent with his fee. I was ready to go with this in September but by November 14, when the attorney had done NOTHING, not even sending the letter, I decided to drop the matter. Lack of action on his part during the probate process resulted in two letters from the court to me stating that if I didn't file papers that were due, I would be removed from my duties as executrix, so you can see that timeliness is not one of his strong suits. I sent the attorney an email November 14 advising him that since nothing had been done, I wanted to drop the matter because I couldn't go though another unnecessarily long drawn out process. His legal assistant responded that they had filed the turn over request with the court but that the court is backlogged and they are waiting to hear from the court. I doubt very much that this is true. I have not received any notification of filing or signed any papers. However, his assistant said that they would drop the matter if I wanted to. Nothing was said about the $3,000 fee. At the initial meeting with the attorney he did mention that the fee was non-refundable but the fact that he has not done anything (I believe) then shouldn't I at least get a partial refund? The other question is, is there any way I can contact the court on my own and confirm that the turn over request was filed?

Thank you for your help.
Submitted: 8 months ago.
Category: Estate Law
Expert:  Legalease replied 8 months ago.

Hello there --

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I am another attorney Estate law expert here at Just Answer and have reviewed your previous question. Can I ask you the following questions --

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1. He charged you $3,000 to write a letter? Did you pay it all already?

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2. Aside from the letter and possible court action, was this lawyer representing you in the original probate court filing or for anything else in this matter? Were there other legal fees charged prior to this?

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3. Aside from the items of your sisters belongings in the shed, was there any other assets or valuables or properties in your sister's estate that actually had to be administered through the probate court?

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MARY

Customer: replied 8 months ago.

1. He indicated that it was a matter for the probate court and did not write a letter. I paid him $3,000 on September 26. In my defense, when I met with him I was extremely upset about the potental loss of my sister's items, especially since the new owner of the house had assured me repeatedly that it was fine to leave them until I could get a pickup truck and someone to help me move the items then when I went to pick them up, the owner claimed that there was nothing in the shed but a couple of boxes of old papers. The attorney saw that I was in a high emotional state. I really wasn't thinking straight.


 


2. The attorney was handling the probate of the will. My sister died January 5, 2013 and probate still has not been completed because of his delays in filings. I believe it will be completed shortly. His fee for the probate work was $2,500.


 


3. My sister's estate was valued at about $150,000 including her house, car and furniture. It was a very small estate and was divided among six heirs.


 


Sorry for the delay but I had to locate papers to get the figures I mentioned above.

Expert:  Legalease replied 8 months ago.

Hello again Jo --

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Please forgive me -- I did not mean to sound like you did something wrong by paying him the money. I am appalled by HIS actions and charges (or rather, his INACTION and the amount charged). Please bear with me for a few moments -- I am typing up an answer to your question based upon your answers and I type S-L-O-W-L-Y (like those turtles on the Comcast/Xfinity commercials --LOL). I just wanted to reassure you first that I find nothing wrong with your actions and there is no need for you to defend them to me -- I am annoyed with the attorney. Please give me about 15 mins and an answer will be posted for you.

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MARY

Customer: replied 8 months ago.

I understand and didn't think you were scolding me. I just feel that I let my emotions overpower me, which is uncharacteristic. I just wanted to let you know that I know that I acted foolishly, but understandably under the circumstances, and now am trying to recover.

Expert:  Legalease replied 8 months ago.

Hello again Jo -

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No worries. It is not easy dealing with the estate of a loved one and sometimes you look in the mirror and wonder why you are the one who got stuck with it, right? (In a family with so many siblings it is tough to be one of the responsible ones -- I know that feeling). First, the reason why I asked the total value of your sisters estate is because I wanted to be certain that the attorney could not have filed a small estate affidavit probate process instead of the regular probate process that he used. Because the value of the estate was 150K + he could not have used the small estate affidavit route so what was done to administer the estate was proper.

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Moving onto your overall questions -- you can contact the clerk's office at the probate court and ask them if any "turn over" motions or requests were filed with the court -- they should have no problem telling you if any actions have been filed recently - and ask them when the last date was that any action was filed in the case by the attorney. If the court confirms that there have been no recent filings, my suggestion is that you write a letter to the attorney and request a refund of the $3,000 -- simply state that the court confirms that nothing has been filed in court from his office and you have not been copied on or made aware of any letters sent to the party holding her belongings, and because no actions have yet to be taken in this matter by his office, can he please refrain from taking any actions and refund your money for that portion of the case. I suggest that you do not mention what he said about it being non-refundable or request a partial refund (I would save that request for later, because you will most likely receive a letter or a telephone call where either he or his legal assistant will try to justify what they have done to earn the fee to this point). In your letter, tell him that if his office has commenced any work on the letter or the court action could they please send you copies of anything that was sent or filed with the court and a breakdown of the fees charged against the $3,000 that you have already paid to him. If you receive just a telephone call in response to your letter, you should insist upon getting copies of what they have done in the matter and a written invoice regarding the time spent on this portion of the matter.

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If you are not satisfied with his response (my guess is that he will try to keep the entire fee and justify it somehow), then you may want to offer him a chance to give you a portion of the fee back (if a letter was written and sent and a telephone call or two used to discuss the matter either with the other party or with you, that is worth about 1K - give or take $100. If the court action was actually typed and filed with the court then you are looking at the 2K range -- with the remaining third left in escrow to see if the matter went to court or not). If he refuses to refund anything at all and has done nothing or very little then you can take a few different actions here -- (a) depending upon how far along you are in the case, you can take him to small claims court to request a refund of that amount either immediately or when the entire probate case is completed (you have up to three years to sign a matter up in small claims court) and/or (b) you can file a complaint against him with the state and county bar associations -- in many instances they will assist in mediating a fee dispute between an attorney and a client. Depending upon what county you are in, you can do an online search for the name of the county, then "Texas lawyer fee dispute" and it will come up -- in most counties you can make the application on line.

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I believe what he charged you was high before he knew whether or not he had to go to court on this matter -- at this point, if he really did not do anything in the matter then he should refund all or most of your money.

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I hope that helps. Please let me know if you have more questions.

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MARY

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Please press a positive rating below so I will be paid for my time. I am given no credit at all unless you press the 3rd, 4th or 5th smile face underneath this ANSWER box below. THANK YOU VERY MUCH !!!!

Customer: replied 8 months ago.

Thank you for your thorough response! And thank you for walking me through all contingencies. I'm now prepared to try and work this out with him from an informed position. That gives me confidence.

Expert:  Legalease replied 8 months ago.

Jo -

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I am glad that I could help. Good Luck. If you have not done so already, can you please press a positive rating under this ANSWER box so that I will be paid for my time assisting you tonight? I truly am not paid anything unless you press either the 3rd, 4th or 5th smile face below. If you are having problems with the buttons or you do not see the smile faces, then please let me know that and state that the service was good or excellent and customer service can process the rating for you. THANKS !!! MARY

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Legalease, Attorney
Category: Estate Law
Satisfied Customers: 14461
Experience: 15 yrs experience: Elder Law, Wills, Social Security Issues
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