I hired an attorney to write a trust for me, a living trust. He wrote up four trusts because he said I needed one for me, my

Asked 6 months ago - Los Angeles, CA

spouse, one for my son's special needs, and one for my insurance. then I received the bill for $2,500 per trust, times four, totaling $10,000?!! I asked for a living trust like "everyone else has" and I got this! Now that is not the grand finale. After reviewing the trusts I found the successor trustee named in the trust (all four trusts of course!) as the lawyer that I hired to prepare the trust. Yes you heard right. The lawyer that prepared the four living trusts also named himself as successor trustee with full administrative powers. Did I miss something here? Is this standard practice?

Additional information

I did not have a fee agreement, he did not give me one. In the initial meeting I asked for an agreement and made payment and was promised one would be forthcoming. After two more payments and three weeks I asked again for an agreement and only then was I given an agreement, after nearly paying the entire cumulative amount.

Attorney answers (5)

  1. Michael Raymond Daymude

    Pro

    Contributor Level 20

    7

    Lawyers agree

    Answered . Respectfully, it does not sound like your testamentary intent could have been satisfied with a trust "like everyone else has."

    You should have discussed with your attorney the naming of successor trustees. Sometimes a client is unable, at an initial meeting and even before a 1st draft, to name a successor trustee. In that event some attorney's merely name themselves as successor trustee in the draft copy. It is easy enough using "find and replace" to then insert the named successor trustee when one is designated. If you had named a designated trustee, and the attorney named himself instead, that is a problem.

    I make no judgment regarding the fees charged. I have drafted a single trust for $1,500 and I have also drafted a single trust for over $5,000. Neither involved complicated estate planning. $10,000 for drafting four trusts and estate planning is not unreasonable.

    I agree your fee agreement should have been in writing. Since it was not, you are entitled to institute non-binding fee arbitration and have a neutral arbitrator decide on a reasonable fee for the services rendered. Good luck.

    My answers are for general information only. They are not legal advice. Answers assume California law. I am... more
  2. Steven M Zelinger

    Pro

    Contributor Level 20

    8

    Lawyers agree

    Answered . Depending on your situation - both how you want things to distribute, separate property issues, special needs, tax planning - this may be appropriate and the fee may be legitimate for the work done. However I find it very unusual to not have a fee agreement and that is very concerning. "What everyone else has" may not be what is right for you if you ave a special needs son, if you have a need to keep assets separate for your and your spouse and/or if you have estate tax concerns (life insurance trust). You really need to have a sit down with this attorney to understand why he did what he did from a legal perspective (again, it may be what is best or it may not) and why he did not have a written fee agreement with clear terms.

    This is not legal advice nor intended to create an attorney-client relationship. The information provided here is... more
  3. Joseph Franklin Pippen Jr.

    Pro

    Contributor Level 20

    6

    Lawyers agree

    Answered . Did you have a written fee agreement?
    Did you have any understanding of the fee structure?
    Have you signed any documents?
    it appears you were not on the same page and did not have a meeting of the minds
    and you may not be responsible for the entire fee.
    You should discuss with the attorney or hire another attorney to negotiate a settlement of the issue

    The answer given does not imply that an attorney-client relationship has been established and your best course of... more
  4. Matthew J Tuller

    Contributor Level 3

    4

    Lawyers agree

    Answered . Without knowing your particular situation, it is hard to answer the question of what the appropriate estate planning techniques to utilize to meet your goals and desires. The estate planning tools that should be used are those that best meet your goals. For example, if you have a taxable estate and are concerned with estate and gift tax savings, more advanced estate planning techniques would be most appropriate.

    From my experience, every client asserts that they need a "simple" estate plan. As the word simply is highly objective and most people I encounter have many different specialized circumstances, which requires a customized and comprehensive estate plan. I have yet to see a "simple" estate plan that would be appropriate—by simple I mean a boilerplate template that would meet the client's desires.

    As to your specific situation, my office believes that communication is critical to the creation of an estate plan. Accordingly, we strive to communicate at every stage. If your desire was not to have the drafting attorney be named as a successor trustee, I would contact that attorney and have your fiduciaries revised.

    Kindest regards,
    Matthew

    The Law Office of
    Matthew J. Tuller
    275 Battery Street, Suite 1300
    San Francisco, CA 94111
    415-625-0773 (Tel.)
    415-520-2535 (Fax)

    mtuller@tullerlaw.com
    http://tullerlaw.com

    Disclaimer: This is for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or legal... more
  5. Jennifer Nicole Sawday

    Contributor Level 9

    2

    Lawyers agree

    Answered . Like the other attorneys stated in their responses, it really depends on what your objectives were. Having multiple trusts may be necessary where you have complex issues. Though it is not standard practice for an attorney to name him or herself as the successor trustee.

    A basic disclaimer trust could contain a carve out for a special needs trust for a special needs beneficiary. A life insurance trust is also a nice idea to avoid having your life insurance proceeds considered part of your taxable estate. If you and your spouse have separate property then having two trusts would make sense. So all in all, more information is needed -- say you only own a home, have a modest estate (under $1 to 2 million) and two children one with special needs then this may be overkill, but again -- more information is needed to determine if this is the best type of plan for you.

    As we must state: any information provided in this answer is not legal advice and your use of it does not create... more

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