Taking on a Crooked Attorney – Stories and Advice

by Darwin on August 18, 2013

Years ago when my father died, the “family attorney” had my mom sign a form to execute the will based on a percentage of the estate.  Since she trusted him and it was a day after his death, she signed without thinking that he might be ripping her off.  It was as simple an estate as it gets – it all went to her.  No businesses, land, or other complex transactions – it was basic 401(k), pension, IRA-type stuff.  The attorney basically completed some paperwork for her (which she or I could have done in retrospect) transferring ownership of some mutual funds and other accounts over to her.  You’d think this could be a normal hourly billing scenario for a few thousand bucks max (considering he was $400 an hour), but bearing in mind most of this work would be done by a paralegal or admin anyway.  As you can imagine, charging a % of total estate is ridiculous since a $300K estate and a $3 Million estate would have a 10X difference in fees for the exact same effort.  It’s been several years, but I think his fee was going to be north of $30K for a few hours of work which is a total scam.  So, once we realized what kind of money we were talking and he refused to alter the fees in any way, we had to take him to an ethics board and highlight all the inappropriate things he did (he was incompetent and I ended up having to do a fair amount of the work he was supposed to have done).  As it turns out, the board (comprised of fellow attorneys!) sided with us and his fee was dramatically reduced.  Fast forward to this week…

Lawyer from Hell

We just got word that an elderly relative was charged $16,000 for some very basic services, which I’m not sure are appropriate to begin with.  Apparently, it started with her asking the lawyer to sign her up for Medicaid.  This probably could have easily been done by a family member but this “trusted family attorney” offered to “help her out”.  In doing so, he wanted to charge her thousands of dollars.  In the process, he also talked her into changing her will, executor (because the executor was asking questions about his fees and he was dumb enough to say to her, “I’ll make sure you’re written out of the will”) and other facets of her estate documents which she probably isn’t even of right mind to be doing.  But in the process, he then charged $2,500 to replace the name of the executor (another attorney we asked said this is no more than a $200 transaction) and he justified his actions and exorbitant fees by saying that he’s saving her all this money by switching her into Medicaid.  That’s an absurd defense, and has no correlation to his actual hours worked.  I can’t imagine it was more than a couple hours to fill out some Medicaid paperwork and he never should have coerced her into changing her will either.  It wouldn’t surprise me if then begins billing for each person that calls to complain about his fees next.


This situation is far removed from me, but since people knew I dealt with my father’s situation years ago, they were asking my advice. This is another state in NY.  I assume a similar ethics board exists and the parties involved will have to put together a case and wait the months to get a hearing and have these charges rescinded.  In the meantime, they are dealing with an elderly widow afraid of being put into collections since she’s now withholding further payment.  It’s a shame attorneys do this sort of thing.  Some of my friends are attorneys and they are appalled when they hear stories like this.  It gives the whole trade such a bad name and it’s less than 1% of all cases I’m sure.  But these are the stories that get people fired up about crooked attorneys.


Any particular advice or similar legal horror stories?

Visit the entire category of similar topics for more cases on financial scams and criticism.


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul N August 19, 2013 at 8:07 pm

Don’t a lot of mutual fund providers/advisors do exactly this. A huge front load charge then a crazy MER and DSC’s on the back end. Why are you surprised at all? Seems to be the same bad actors here.
Sometimes I think we live in a world where everyone try’s to take more then their fair share from whoever they can. I think it becomes easier when someone has done something to you then the person figures they will pay that forward and get back that and then some from somone else.


Roger @ The Chicago Financial Planner August 30, 2013 at 7:52 pm

When my father died a number of years ago he didn’t have a huge estate, but there were a lot of moving parts so to speak. I recall the bill being a fraction of what you described for a downtown Chicago attorney.

As a financial advisor I deal with a fair amount of attorneys especially in the estate planning area. Before referring a client I contact the attorney, describe their situation, and get the attorney to give me a fee estimate. So far this approach has always worked for my clients, like anything it is best to set expectations up front when possible.


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