Our mother died recently, and her attorney charged the full legal professional services rate to arrange the burial with the funeral home, and then to attend the funeral / wake. Is it ethical / appropriate / legal to charge the professional legal services rate for companionship and social activities?
It isn't particularly clear from your question who exactly the attorney has charged. If the death was recent, you might not yet have an executor or administrator appointed by the Court. Does the attorney represent this person? Or, is the attorney himself nominated under the Will to serve in this capacity? I would think that it's of primary importance to know who the attorney is trying to saddle with the bill, as there may be some legitimate work done here, but likely a few things that are not quite so appropriate.
For example, the attorney might certainly have been instructed to make specific funeral arrangements according to the client's wishes. It would certainly be odd, though, that the family wasn't a part of the decisions and even (at least initially) the financial responsibility. As for whether or not charging an attorney's typical hourly rate is appropriate for that type of work, I'd have a tough time defending myself if I did it -- and I'd feel pretty rotten to boot. Charging a fee for attending the services? Not a chance. Even if doing so never ruffled enough feathers to land the attorney in an ethical/malpractice/grievance nightmare, that just smells underhanded.
I'm not sure if you've got one of those rotten apples that spoils our whole bunch or not, but if even half of what you're describing is accurate, I would get as far away from this attorney as I could. Again, their role in the process would determine exactly how to extricate them from the situation altogether.
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Mr. Thomas provides a good answer. The first question you need to answer who is the attorney attempting to bill? You or the estate?
I agree with Mr. Thomas, if there were special provisions in the will that the attorney was to take care of then it would seem appropriate to bill for those services. However, it seems a little off to bill for attending services.
You could always discuss this bill with the attorney and ask for clarification and even a reduction. If you feel strongly you can call the Houston Bar Association fee dispute center at (713) 759-1133. They may have resources that can help.
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