Estate Law Questions? Ask an Estate Lawyer.
Hello there --
I am another attorney Estate law expert here at Just Answer and have reviewed your previous question. Can I ask you the following questions --
1. He charged you $3,000 to write a letter? Did you pay it all already?
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?
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?
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.
Hello again Jo --
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.
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.
Hello again Jo -
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.
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.
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.
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.
I hope that helps. Please let me know if you have more questions.
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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.
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