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Trusts & Estates Law/Excessive Estate Fees for Amendments to my Dad and his deceased wife's Trust

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Question
My Dad's wife passed away Jan 2011.  They have a Living Trust dtd 1987, total estate value approx $500K (includes his residence and a mountain home (total appraised RE value $450K, about $20K in gold/collectibles, and $30K savings.  Due to his poor health, I moved him recently from LA into a senior community near me in San Jose.

When I discovered in Oct 2012 that he had never filed a Death of Trustee affidavit, I found a local SJ lawyer to do this, issue an Amendment to the Trust, record DOTs with the counties, and update his Financial and Med POAs.  We signed a Fee Agreement of $250/hr for the lawyer and $50/hr for his admin asst.  To date we have paid over $5,200 for his services - isn't that extraordinarily excessive?  I think we are done, but I am afraid to ask, because my Dad will be charged for his time!  Would greatly appreciate your feedback/advice.

Answer
I would need to know more information before I could make any meaningful comments on whether those fees are excessive or not - but based on the information you provided, it does seem quite high, especially given the hourly rates for the lawyer and the paralegal.  

Assuming that there's a correlation between hourly rate and experience (which isn't always true), sometimes it make sense to "pay more" per hour to find someone with more experience who can accomplish what needs to be done in less time.

Here's what the California Rules of Professional Conduct have to say about whether a fee is unconscionable or not:  http://rules.calbar.ca.gov/Rules/RulesofProfessionalConduct/CurrentRules/Rule420

Has the lawyer provided time records to show what he's done and how long it took?  How much of the work was the lawyer doing vs. the paralegal?

If you believe the fee was excessive, you can request fee arbitration through the Santa Clara County Bar Association by phoning (408) 975-2114.

Good luck

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Janet Brewer

Expertise


BE CAREFUL about taking legal advice from non-lawyers.

I am a licensed attorney in California. I am available to answer questions about probating estates, preparing wills and trusts, administering estates and trusts, forming family limited partnerships and limited liability companies, and establishing a wide variety of estate and gift tax-sensitive trusts (charitable trusts, children's trusts, irrevocable life insurance trusts, etc.).

I can also answer questions regarding the preparation of estate tax returns (Form 706) in taxable estates. Please note that I do not prepare trust income tax returns and cannot provide you with any information about that type of return.

Please note: I am only able to practice law in the State of California. I cannot answer specific questions about other states' laws; I can only provide some "general" information that may or may not apply to your situation.

Experience

I have practiced California estate, gift-planning, and probate law exclusively since 1991. I am certified as a specialist in estate planning and probate law by the California State Bar Board of Legal Specialization (there are less than 125 such specialists practicing in Santa Clara County and fewer than 7,000 practicing in California - out of over 170,000 lawyers statewide).

I have served as an Instructor in the CFP (certificate in financial planning) program at University of California Santa Cruz, teaching the estate planning segment.

Organizations
Silicon Valley Bar Association
Wealth Counsel
Wealth Advisors' Forum
Executive Committee Member, Solo and Small Firm Section of the California State Bar (appointed to a 3 year term by the California State Bar Board of Governors)

Education/Credentials
I received my law degree (J.D.) from University of Denver Law School in 1975. I was admitted to the Colorado Bar in 1975 and to the California Bar in 1977 (NOTE: although I am a member of the Colorado Bar, I am on INACTIVE status there). I earned an M.B.A. in 1982, and I earned a Masters Degree in Taxation Law (LLM) at Golden Gate University Law School in 2010 (with honors).

More at:
http://www.calprobate.com

Awards and Honors
2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, & 2012 - chosen as a "SuperLawyer" - one of the top 5% of Northern California lawyers practicing in the estate planning and probate area (www.superlawyers.com). Avvo Rating of 10.0/10.0

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