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.