Joseph R. "Jay" West
Probate and Estate Administration Legal Fees and Fee Agreements
We met a prospective client last month “shopping around” for an attorney. His father died without a will, and an estate had to be opened to deal with a home his father owned. At the outset it was clear he met another law firm prior to calling us. When pressed, he admitted the other attorney had opened his father’s estate. When asked why he wanted to meet us, he stated:
“When I received the fee agreement from the other firm AFTER the estate was opened, I was shocked, and did not sign it. The fee seemed excessive, especially since my father’s only assets are a home, a joint bank account, a life insurance policy, and retirement assets with beneficiary designations.”
It was clear he did not enter a written legal fee agreement prior to the other attorney performing work. Instead, the attorney produced a fee agreement for his review after the initial work to open the estate was done.
Through our discussion and a subsequent meeting about the scope of work to be performed, we were retained. We thoroughly discussed and entered a written flat rate legal fee agreement based upon our experience performing similar work, the relative simplicity of the issues and circumstances, and the time that we anticipate it will take to complete the estate administration.
A few things deserve note:
1. All clients must know and agree upon the legal fees and other costs and expenses to be incurred BEFORE an attorney can perform work on their behalf. A written fee agreement is required.
2. When seeking representation to probate a will and handle the final affairs of a deceased relative or friend, take time to meet attorneys who offer a free initial consultation as this is the best way to determine whether to hire them.
3. Trust your instincts and rely upon the recommendations of others when hiring an attorney.
4. Hire attorneys whose legal fees are fair and reasonable based upon the work to be performed. In doing so, avoid percentage and formula based legal fee calculations as they tend to be excessive in this area of the law.