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rated:
Before I get the “contact a lawyer, you cheapskate” replies, I’m not asking for legal advice.

What I would very much appreciate is hearing from people who have already gone through the estate probate quagmire and what percentage contingency fee was paid to their lawyers.

Obviously paying by the hour is the simplest method (and in my opinion the best), but setting this aside for the moment, what was your prearranged contingency percentage---3.5%? 7.5%? 20%? 40%?

No probate fee guidelines seem to exist for my state, NY. I’m hoping real world experience may be the best way to determine what’s fair.

If more details are required: it’s a large but not very complicated estate; the assets are well accounted for and under administration; several lawyers are already involved and are now demanding a much higher contingency fee than was originally agreed upon.

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bump to avoid archiving

fwuser12 (Sep. 16, 2016 @ 1:48p) |

I know it's been a long time since I've updated this thread.

I'm still here and will continue updating as long as there's... (more)

cga (Sep. 16, 2016 @ 6:43p) |

And  a November BUMP!!

Technologist (Nov. 01, 2016 @ 7:53p) |

TL;DR: is the case still stuck in some kind of legal limbo?  Yes
_______
10 years and counting
Holy %$&##

From the deceased's date of death, it's actually almost precisely 10 years 5 months...and counting.

OP, I'm sorry for your frustration and your difficult experience with all of this. I'm new to this thread and am glad you have updated us over the years with the results of your proceedings.
cga said:   My posting history seems to be feast or famine. Local lawyer just called with yet another update.

LL had a conversation with the new Public Administrator (Bruce Stein), and spoke very highly of said PA. LL was in a big hurry to leave (typical for a Friday afternoon) and hurriedly updated me.

Cutting to the chase, Stein confirmed what I had already explained to LL about our case, including many important details. Stein also pointed out that the case has been stagnant since 2007 (which I knew and pointed out earlier), and that the only way to proceed is via a Petition of Withdrawal with new and pertinent information. LL didn't admit anything, but I'm sorry to say his original take on this case has been pretty much totally...wrong. For example, stalemates do occur in cases like this. There are many other details that LL was wrong about--details that I haven't discussed here.

Stein was not familiar with our case since he's been in the position for only two years. He said that in a case such as ours, where one side is claiming a closer kinship to the decedent than the other side, it's incumbent upon the side (my group) claiming a more distant (but true!) kinship to disprove the other group's closer kinship. Setting that aside, LL said that Stein explained that, normally, if one side proves their kinship, and furthermore assuming the other side is claiming the same or equal kinship, the Court will distribute half of the estate to the side best proving its case. However, cases such as ours, where one side claims a closer kinship, are more complicated and the side claiming the more distant kinship is expected to present a better case than the opposing side. Or something very much to that effect.

What all this means is that our present counsel is on the right track (the only track), that being submitting a Petition of Withdrawal. However, the POW, which we have, presents very little, and weak, new evidence. It merely mentions and rehashes old evidence, along with some information concerning the Foreign Court's decision. I believe present counsel is planning on including a translated copy of the Foreign Court's decision with the POW. The POW requests the Court to distribute the entire estate to our group. The POW, in its present draft form, and in my opinion, would have little effect on the Court. By the way, we have no reason to believe that present counsel has changed the Petition of Withdrawal.

So we're, indeed, back to square one.

Assuming LL's account of today's conversation with the PA is accurate, at least I now know that present counsel is on the right track, that being a POW. But weighing that against present counsel's ineffective Petition of Withdrawal, their unprofessional rude attitude, their refusal to update us, etc. ...we're still left with choosing the devil we know or the devil we don't.


I suspect OP may know much of this, but for the benefit of everyone else and without giving legal advice, the general process here is this:

When someone dies, their estate must be distributed to the proper heirs whether by will or by other means. Since the decedent here died intestate (i.e. without a will), the decedent's estate gets distributed to the decedent's family via a pre-programmed schedule under NY law. Generally speaking, closer relatives have a higher claim, so it starts with wife/kids and progresses outward to parents, siblings, grandparents, cousins, etc. down the line until a proper claimant is found. At the end of the line is escheatment to the state, which means that if no heirs are found by going down the list, the money goes to the state.

NY has kinship hearings to determine who these proper heirs should be. This can be complex if you have a big family and there are lots of illegitimate children and other relatives, especially because it can be very difficult to find records and proof, particularly when the records or proof are in another country. There are various rules applicable to kinship proceedings that are complex, as OP has noticed. For example, one rule in NY is that anyone who was 100 years old or more at the time of the descedent's death is treated as if he or she had died before the decedent. Another is that a male under 14 and a female under 12 are presumed incapable of having children. If the decedent's grandfather had an illegitimate child, the decedent may have had an unknown cousin, so the kinship hearing gives an opportunity for all eligible heirs to come out of the woodwork. Obviously, the decedent, if male, may himself have an unknown child or one who was not born at the time of his death. If you hear about a guardian ad litem, the guardian ad litem is the person who is the trustee for the unknown heirs and has a duty to represent the interests of the unknown heirs.

OP has stated that the heirs on OP's side are all maternal first cousins (or their heirs, as OP is) of the decedent while heirs on the other side, OP believes, are nieces and nephews, which means they would be claiming to be heirs of the decedent's siblings. The nieces and nephews would have a higher claim because their claim is based on a sibling (same parent), whereas OP's relatives are cousins (same grandparent). That is why the Public Administrator said they cannot disburse any funds yet -- if the niece/nephew claim is true, then they have a better claim by being a closer relative. That's also why the Public Administrator said that if both claims were cousin claims, they could disburse half the money because they would have, at minimum, equal claims if both were true. The reason that OP's relatives have a slightly higher burden is because they are more distant relatives.

When the court cannot determine kinship to its satisfaction to ensure that it has accounted for all possible heirs that may have a claim, it puts the money in trust with the comptroller *(or if in NYC, with the Commissioner of Finance)(edited)* under Surrogate's Court Procedure §2222: http://law.onecle.com/new-york/surrogates-court-procedure/SCP022...  This is the "stalemate" that you are talking about. The court may later order disbursement of the funds by petition of the claimants if it is later determined that all the heirs have been determined to its satisfaction. The decree that you mentioned earlier is likely the decree under this section.

In addition, under SCP §2225, after three years, one can petition that the money be paid to all known heirs by demonstrating that a diligent search was made for all unknown heirs: http://law.onecle.com/new-york/surrogates-court-procedure/SCP022...  This is effectively a "statute of limitations"-type provision to say that after three years, the state assumes that all the heirs have had sufficient time to come out of the woodwork. OP has obviously passed three years since the decree (OP posted in December 2007 about the decree), so if and when the factual dispute is determined one way or the other, the rightful heirs will likely use this section to have the money distributed.

Unfortunately for OP and OP's relatives, it is effectively OP's relatives' burden to show that the nieces/nephews are not related to the decedent in order for them to receive the money. If OP does not show this to the court's satisfaction, the nieces and nephews would appear to have a stronger claim than OP's relatives who are cousins. If the foreign case OP mentioned was to determine paternity or something else, it sounds like OP is in a holding pattern until the new foreign court case, if any, is determined. Apologies if that is bad news.

The good news is that the nieces/nephews must also prove they are proper claimants to collect the money, so they have some burden to show that their claim is legitimate too. The results of the old foreign case (even if it did not meet proper notice requirements) may be sufficient to show that there is at least some doubt that they are not legitimate claimants, so it's a good thing for OP's attorneys to file the results with the petition. It sounds, from what OP said, that the nieces and nephews have not done much to advance their own case, so that's good news as well.

Again, unfortunately for OP, and as OP feared, if you read §2222, you will see that OP's relatives are owed no interest and the state can deduct its costs:
The court or the supreme court upon the petition of a person
claiming to be so entitled and upon at least 14 days' notice,
accompanied with a copy of the petition, to the attorney general, the
state comptroller and the public administrator of the county or if there
be none, the county treasurer, may by a reference or by directing the
trial of an issue by a jury or otherwise, ascertain the rights of the
persons interested and grant an order directing the payment of any money
which appears to be due to the claimant, but without interest and after
deducting all expenses incurred by the state
with respect thereto.


Please note that in NY, the "Supreme Court" is really the county court (in this case Kings County Supreme Court) and would be called "Kings County Superior Court" in most other states. The highest court of NY State is called the Court of Appeals.

Please do not assume that these two statutes are the only applicable provisions. Statutory interpretation can be very complex, and the first rule is that you must keep reading.

Court proceedings can be very slow, no matter what type of case. As someone said, certainly a month or two is like "next day air" in many court proceedings. I don't disagree that your attorneys should be updating you quarterly, even if just to say "no news, OP." Hang in there and good luck.
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rated:
"fair"?

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Yeah, I know...fair + attorney = oxymoron.

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cga said:

<<
If more details are required: it’s a large but not very complicated estate; the assets are well accounted for and under administration; several lawyers are already involved and are now demanding a much higher contingency fee than was originally agreed upon.
>>



Depends on what "agreed upon" means. If it was a binding bid, tell 'em to quit yammering. If it was an estimate of the amount needed, they may have a point.

No way should you pay them what they're now demanding, but you may have to pay them more than the original amount. Keep in mind that if they're doing something you consider shady or unethical, you can report them to the ABA.

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No real world experience here. However, my state has a statutory fee schedule. I am in the Midwest, and like everything else, would probably be higher in NY.

Personal representative and attorneys are allowed, as compensation, certain percentages of the value of personalty of the estate. This percentage is based upon a graduated scale as follows: 5% of the first $5,000; 4% of the next $20,000; 3% of the next $75,000; 2.75% of the next $300,000; 2.5% of the next $600,000; and 2% of everything over $1,000,000.

HTH.

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StevenColorado:

The original agreed upon percentage is 3.5% of the estate’s value. This was agreed to over three years ago. We have this from the lawyer in writing, with his signature.

Problem is, even though the agreement clearly indicates this fee is for the “entire proceeding” he’s now claiming that: a) the matter is more complicated than he was originally told, and that, b) his original agreed upon fee was for filling the paperwork and doing the preliminary legwork only. Both of these contentions are untrue. The only contentious issue is the genealogy, which should have been handled by a genealogist. The funds are accounted for and the Public Administrator is administering the estate.

The attorney now wants to involve another “expert” attorney who is demanding 20% of the estate’s net assets. Both insist that all the heirs (10) travel quite a distance to his office to sign the agreement. Some of the heirs are in their eighties and frail. Nevertheless, the attorneys refuse to mail or fax us a copy of the agreement so that we can study it and/or consult another attorney before agreeing to it.

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Samiam:

That’s a very useful schedule. Thanks. And is more or less what I would expect and consider fair. I don’t think I’d have a problem agreeing to these and even somewhat higher percentages.

For some reason I can’t find a probate code or fee schedule for NY. Maybe because none exists.

I don’t consider myself inordinately difficult or unreasonable, and I don’t recall ever seeing any black helicopters flying overhead….but I’m convinced that the last four lawyers I’ve dealt with have mishandled my cases, which have all been business related (nothing criminal). Guess I’m just sick of it may make a stand on this one since there’s a lot of money involved.

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Tell the lawyer that because you are unable to settle the issue at his level, that you are going to the head of his firm (unless he's a one-man office). Explain the situation succinctly, and request to have another lawyer put on the caes at the same rate as the first. Go to the ABA and report him if things don't work.

Sounds like they smell a sucker. Don't roll over for them.

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He's a one man show, so there's no one above him. Unfortunately, this lawyer was not my choice. My relatives found him, and all of my advice has fallen on deaf ears for three years. They're now panicking because they're afraid the lawyer will abandon them if they don't give in to his demands. If it wasn't so serious it'd be funny.

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cga said:

<< Unfortunately, this lawyer was not my choice. My relatives found him >>



Are you the personal rep or is someone else?

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cga said:

<< Problem is, even though the agreement clearly indicates this fee is for the “entire proceeding” he’s now claiming that: a) the matter is more complicated than he was originally told, and that, b) his original agreed upon fee was for filling the paperwork and doing the preliminary legwork only. Both of these contentions are untrue. The only contentious issue is the genealogy, which should have been handled by a genealogist. The funds are accounted for and the Public Administrator is administering the estate.

The attorney now wants to involve another “expert” attorney who is demanding 20% of the estate’s net assets. Both insist that all the heirs (10) travel quite a distance to his office to sign the agreement. Some of the heirs are in their eighties and frail. Nevertheless, the attorneys refuse to mail or fax us a copy of the agreement so that we can study it and/or consult another attorney before agreeing to it.
>>



I wish I could help you more on this. I just don't have enough experience in this area to tell you what is the norm. However, 20% of the estate's assets as a fee for second attorney just sounds outrageous to me. I would not agree to that under any circumstances. And while as an attorney myself I am somewhat sympathetic to one who grossly underestimates the complexity of the work he is taking on, I am tempted to say in this case it is his problem. If you have a signed fee agreement that says 3.5% is his fee, you should stick to your guns about that. As you can see from my state's fee schedule, 3.5% is a very reasonable fee.

Good luck and let us know how this turns out. You might want to consider hiring a reasonably priced attorney on an hourly basis to represent your interest as an heir. Remember, this attorney does not represent you, he represents the estate.

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File a complaint with the NY Bar. That will let him know you aren't going to roll over. It will also make him toe the line if he is trying to pull something shady.
I agree with samiam about hiring your own attorney to protect your interests, especially if a large amount of money is involved. Is there a probate judge involved? Complain to judge through an attorney, preferably, but if not, pro se.

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Unknownshopper:

>>Are you the personal rep or is someone else?<<

There is no personal representative. No one is handling the assets, which are well into the seven figures, to the left of the decimal point. The poor guy died intestate. Yes, hard to believe I know. I take no responsibilty because no one listens to me. I'm just trying to help my relatives who are understably all in a tizzy.

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Samiam:

Can’t tell you how much better it makes me feel to at least hear that an attorney agrees that 20% may be outrageous. This is not a complicated estate. The money is all in place. There are no legal issues with the estate itself. It’s all in the USA and taxes have already been paid on it.

The lawyer of record (#1) is the one wanting to involve the other attorney (#2). #1 has never once given us an accounting of the estate funds, which have been collected via two auctions. My relatives are currently the heirs of record, but of course that is being contested due to the size of the estate. I would guess there is an 80% probability they will prevail…assuming proper legal representation.

The official administrator is the Public Administrator who has in turn involved another legal firm to do what…I don’t know. I don’t know if the PA is the permanent or temporary administrator. We have not received any correspondence from #1, the PA, the county, or the city for over two years. Since I do not have the authority to make decisions on behalf of the estate or the heirs, the legal/government entities involved ignore me when I ask for information. If I were in charge, at the very least I would have hired an attorney on an hourly basis right at the outset.

I can’t document it, but I’m nevertheless convinced that the crux of this fee problem does not involve an underestimation of the complexity of the case. In my opinion #1 is blackmailing my relatives, who frankly, don’t know what’s going on and most of whom are not very fluent in English. One of the first cousins is a relative of mine who doesn’t need her share of the funds that badly, and since her health does not allow her to get too emotionally involved, I have to be careful about how I proceed.

I've hired a local attorney (#3) who, for $500 (of my money) will contact the PA and see what’s been done--if #1 is indeed representing us or the estate. #3 thinks that even though we were led to believe #1 is representing us, the hoped-for distributees (heirs), he may indeed be representing the estate, which make no sense at all to me.

I would very much like to legally nail #1 to the wall and I would not mind spending a significant amount of legal fees to accomplish this.

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Good luck. This isn't the first time a bunch of attorneys have (correctly) identified a messed-up, but well-funded, estate to be a potential windfall for their firms. It seems there's a whole subculture of attorneys that prey on these situation.

Total fees in one particularly FUBARed estate I worked came out to about 10-12%. And that one included legal bills for having senior associates manually rekey (off of printed reports) information which was submitted to them on diskette. And paying for one representative's personal expenses. (Was cheaper to pay than to involve partners from 3 law firms in taking it to court.)

Expenses/fees in that estate would have been in the 4-5% range if everyone hadn't had their heads up their entrails.

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noless said:

<< File a complaint with the NY Bar. That will let him know you aren't going to roll over. It will also make him toe the line if he is trying to pull something shady.
>>



What a mess cga has on his hands. However, I would not waste your time with the above advice. For one thing, you need to have documented evidence of malfeasance to lodge a bar complaint. It can't just be your word against the attorney's. Also it takes many months, sometimes years to get bar complaints resolved. And even if it is resolved in your favor (i.e., the attorney gets reprimanded) its not going to accomplish what you really want, which is to get the money to which you are legally entitled as an heir of the estate. Instead, hire an attorney who will fully and effectively represent your interests in this matter. There's nothing like a phone call or letter from an attorney to get people cooperating (even other attorneys). This will likely cost more than $500 but with an estate in the 7 figures, it would be a good investment for you.

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unknownshopper:

Do you mean 10-12% just for filling out, shuffling, and filing papers? The distributees didn't have to prove their authenticity? I guess it depends on the size of the estate, but for a large one this sounds absurdly high, assuming no court time.

At this point, taking everything into consideration, I think my relatives would accept a 10%, even a 12%, fee even though in my opinion this is still too high. They would definitely welcome 5%.

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cga said:

<< Unknownshopper:

>>Are you the personal rep or is someone else?<<

There is no personal representative. No one is handling the assets, which are well into the seven figures, to the left of the decimal point. The poor guy died intestate. Yes, hard to believe I know. I take no responsibilty because no one listens to me. I'm just trying to help my relatives who are understably all in a tizzy.
>>



If it makes you feel better, I'm in a similar situation, but with a shyster Financial Advisor, not a lawyer. My grandmother amassed a fair amount of wealth by working diligently in a high-paid field while living a quiet life for many years, retiring at 88. She trusted a shyster financial adviser, who has set up all sorts of complicated deals. She set up a generation-skipping trust for my mother's benefit, where my mother lived off the dividends produced by the fund, but it was technically in my brother's and my names.

Our mother died in August of 2002, and we've been trying to force the FA to provide records of what the trust money has been invested in, and to disclose any conflicts of interest. He has declined to do so, and we have retained a lawyer to force this out of him. After numerous delays, his court order to produce the records comes due in mid-May.

This gem has gotten his investors into Cambridge Partners, the biggest hedge fund fraud in NJ history (in return for kickbacks of several hundred thousand dollars), had his license revoked (but still claims on his letterhead and business cards that he is certified), etc., etc. He also put together a Family Limited Partnership that in which my brother and I were limited partners and our grandmother was the general partner. If she passed away, the FA's daughter in law then became general partner and could so anything she wanted with the FLP funds with no requirement to disclose anything to us. The FLP would remain in effect for twenty years, during which time she could assess us at any time for any undisclosed reason - if we declined, she would put money in the fund and charge us interest for the "loan".

He has gotten a Power of Attorney for our grandmother. We are slowly convincing her that having someone out of family having the POA is highly unusual, and are trying to get her to turn a POA over to my brother. The instant she does, FA will get all her financial records requested, and we'll go through another protracted demand-documents-and-wait bout.

He is in his 70's and our grandmother will turn 99 this year, so we're impatient.

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Samiam:

>>>
There's nothing like a phone call or letter from an attorney to get people cooperating (even other attorneys). This will likely cost more than $500 but with an estate in the 7 figures, it would be a good investment for you.
>>>

Yes, that certainly is true. When I inquired about this a couple of years ago, two attorneys quoted wildly divergent prices of $1,500 and $10,000---for looking into the case and nothing more. None of the relatives wanted to spend a nickel upfront, and this made me angry enough to wash my hands of the entire matter.

But for $500 it’s worth a shot.

I also agree that this should cost more than $500, but interestingly, this new local attorney assured me that he would delve deeply enough into the case to provide us a recommendation on how the matter has, and is being handled, and how we should proceed. And put it all in writing. Maybe I’ll get lucky with #3, who claims to specialize in probate matters. Could be he’s hoping to represent at least my relative in the matter.

>>What a mess cga has on his hands.<<

Thanks. Sometimes a little commiseration goes a long way.

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cga said:

<< Samiam:

Can’t tell you how much better it makes me feel to at least hear that an attorney agrees that 20% may be outrageous..
>>

I agree 20% of a 1M+ estate is outrageous...an outrageously sweet deal for the atty.

If your relatives ARE willing to pay 10-12%, hell Ill go get my NY bar license and do it for ya!

I wouldnt agree to the 20% after an initial figure of 3.5% - sounds like youve run into a string of bad attys.

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Samiam said

<< What a mess cga has on his hands. However, I would not waste your time with the above advice. For one thing, you need to have documented evidence of malfeasance to lodge a bar complaint. It can't just be your word against the attorney's. Also it takes many months, sometimes years to get bar complaints resolved. And even if it is resolved in your favor (i.e., the attorney gets reprimanded) its not going to accomplish what you really want, which is to get the money to which you are legally entitled as an heir of the estate. >>



I disagree with Samiam, the Bar complaint might not settle the matter, but it might cause this attorney to realize someone is paying attention, and is not willing to sign anything just to get his hands on some quick cash. I live in Florida, and probate lawyers looting estates where there is no close family are common. I know the St. Pete Times did an investigative series on the problems with the probate system, and exposed unscrupulous lawyers and court appointed administrators. You may want to contact a reporter. They are always looking for a good story. I'd want to burn this guy just on principle.

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Noless:

>>>
You may want to contact a reporter. They are always looking for a good story. I'd want to burn this guy just on principle.
>>>

The principle, indeed! I’m totally in agreement.

Of course lawyers hate hearing “it’s the principle” because this sometimes signals an unwillingness to pay them down the road if things don’t go the client’s way.

However, I LIKE your idea, noless, and as long as it does not jeopardize the case, I'll look into it after I hear what #3 attorney has to say.

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attys usually dont recommend "ratting out" other attys

as samiam noted, nothing really actionable has occured.

from what you posted, its not like the atty changed his fee from 3.5% to 20%, he is ASKING the family to agree to add new attys and raise the %...theres no requirement you do so.

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SUCKISSTAPLES:

>>>
I agree 20% of a 1M+ estate is outrageous...an outrageously sweet deal for the atty.

I wouldnt agree to the 20% after an initial figure of 3.5% - sounds like youve run into a string of bad attys.
>>>

Thanks. Well, that’s another attorney who thinks 20% is probably too much.

>>>
If your relatives ARE willing to pay 10-12%, hell Ill go get my NY bar license and do it for ya!
>>>

Well, start studying because the relatives will be forced into proceeding one way or the other in about two weeks!

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SUCKISSTAPLES:

>>>
attys usually dont recommend "ratting out" other attys

as samiam noted, nothing really actionable has occured.

from what you posted, its not like the atty changed his fee from 3.5% to 20%, he is ASKING the family to agree to add new attys and raise the %...theres no requirement you do so.
>>>

I missed your above reply when posting my previous post, so sorry to clutter up the thread with split replies.

Yes, I realize attorneys hate dropping the hammer on their cohorts, but frankly, what bothers me is the overall lack of moral indignation exhibited by many, if not most, attorneys (FW present company excluded). Life is mostly a grey area, but some matters are clearly black or white. I, for one, don’t mind picking sides and expect the same from ethical professionals.

There’s more to this case than I can explain here…well, I could but I’d probably be chastised for it…but in fact I believe we are the victims of at the very least unethical behavior and/or malfeasance.

Attorney #1 notified us that he has postponed the next court date solely on the grounds that we have not met his fee terms. Nobody likes to be extorted. For all I know, our case could suffer due to this postponement.

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OP - wish I could say your situation was unique as regards the attorney not budging, but it happens more often than you would guess.

I'm confused about the "contingency" aspect. Do you mean that attorney #1 doesn't receive any money until the entire estate is settled?

BTW - for those reading this thread out of curiosity, this thread provides one of the bigger reasons why you should designate one (and only one) person as personal representative of the estate ... and who can hire/fire attorneys at will.

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See this opinion:

<< DR 2-106(D).
DR 2-106(D), which provides that:

Promptly after a lawyer has been employed in a contingent fee matter, the lawyer shall provide the client with a writing stating the method by which the fee is to be determined, including the percentage or percentages that shall accrue to the lawyer in the event of settlement, trial or appeal, litigation and other expenses to be deducted from the recovery and whether such expenses are to be deducted before or after the contingent fee is calculated. Upon conclusion of a contingent fee matter, the lawyer shall provide the client with a written statement stating the outcome of the matter, and if there is a recovery, showing the remittance to the client and the method of its determination.

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>>>
I'm confused about the "contingency" aspect. Do you mean that attorney #1 doesn't receive any money until the entire estate is settled?
>>>

That's correct. Plus expenses. He hasn't received a nickel yet.

The original agreement was 3.5% of the gross estate and he now wants 20% of the net estate--for both of them--plus (though I'm not sure about this) expenses. I'm guessing he's going to split the fee with the new guy and I'm also guessing the main reason he wants to bring in another lawyer is to increase his own (#1's) net fee.

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Thanks very much, noless. The part of the case opinion you quote is germane to my case and helpful.

The rest of the opinion is also a very good example of what I would call having your cake and eating it, too.

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cga said:

<< >>>I'm confused about the "contingency" aspect. Do you mean that attorney #1 doesn't receive any money until the entire estate is settled?
>>>That's correct. Plus expenses. He hasn't received a nickel yet. .
>>



It's too late now, but my advice to others would be to never, never use the contingency approach for probate matters unless one is an unproven beneficiary.

The pay as you go approach gives you much more control over what/when the attorneys do.

BTW - 20% of final settlement is not that uncommon for non-probate contingency work.

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>>>
BTW - 20% of final settlement is not that uncommon for non-probate contingency work.
>>>

For non-probate work? Really...

Well, I guess 20% is not too uncommon for small to medium size estates.

But I suspect a non-bent, ethical attorney would charge between 3-7% for an estate of this size. And a truly honest one would not touch it except by the hour.

Also...I'm not convinced it's too late for us yet.

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Try to look for statutory attorney's fees in the probate code in NY. Regardless of size, the attorney is only entitled to what is in the probate code. The only time the atty would be entitled to MORE would be extraordinary atty fees.

look for an atty who specializes in probate, not some civil atty who thinks he can practice probate.

also, the atty may have to show the 20% fee in the first and final accounting of the Estate. i believe, in calif, if the judge would have a comment about the 20% fee and only give the statutory fee. the judge has to approve of the fees before the the administrator distributes the funds from the Estate's account.

if you are looking to find out what is in the Estate, you can go to the Court and look up the case file. Once you get the case file, try and final what is called the inventory and apprasial, etc.

I hope, i helped you, a least a little.

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>>>
Try to look for statutory attorney's fees in the probate code in NY.
>>>

All of your suggestions are good.

Actually, I've looked for a NYS probate code everywhere but am having no luck. I don't think NY has a probate code, let alone much, if anything, relating to probate fees, unlike other states.

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cga said:

<< Samiam:

The lawyer of record (#1) is the one wanting to involve the other attorney (#2). #1 has never once given us an accounting of the estate funds, which have been collected via two auctions. My relatives are currently the heirs of record, but of course that is being contested due to the size of the estate. I would guess there is an 80% probability they will prevail…assuming proper legal representation.


I've hired a local attorney (#3) who, for $500 (of my money) will contact the PA and see what’s been done--if #1 is indeed representing us or the estate. #3 thinks that even though we were led to believe #1 is representing us, the hoped-for distributees (heirs), he may indeed be representing the estate, which make no sense at all to me..
>>



I think the reason the attys want all the heirs to come in to sign the retainers is so they dont later claim they somehow didnt agree/didnt really sign/had someone else sign, etc. They could send a "sample agreement" , but they know you would likely show it to other attys , and they probably dont want that to happen. They also may think you want to see if someone else could do the job cheaper/better. There is a feeling of more pressure to use them if all the relatives commit to coming in and signing.

From what you posted, you have taken good steps (ie finding out what is really going on by using an independent atty to sort it all out)... While none of the characters seem particularly noble in this situation, it might not be an issue of atty #1 misleading you.

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SUCKISSTAPLES:

>>>
I think the reason the attys want all the heirs to come in to sign the retainers is so they dont later claim they somehow didnt agree/didnt really sign/had someone else sign, etc. They could send a "sample agreement" , but they know you would likely show it to other attys , and they probably dont want that to happen. They also may think you want to see if someone else could do the job cheaper/better. There is a feeling of more pressure to use them if all the relatives commit to coming in and signing.
>>>

Yes, they definitely want to pressure the relatives into signing on the spot. Also they also don’t want to allow us an opportunity to secure other opinions, or to study the agreement for a couple of days. But after all, I take the position that we should not have to travel 300+ miles just to see an agreement. Why not fax it to us. There’s no need to sign on the dotted line with a proverbial gun to one’s head.

Unless time is absolutely critical, I cannot justify the reasoning behind *any* attorney *ever* refusing to provide a potential client with an agreement before hand. A potential client should have an opportunity to consider an agreement for a reasonable length of time before reaching a decision.

>>>
While none of the characters seem particularly noble in this situation, it might not be an issue of atty #1 misleading you.
>>>

Oh, but he is.

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cga said

<< Actually, I've looked for a NYS probate code everywhere but am having no luck. I don't think NY has a probate code, let alone much, if anything, relating to probate fees, unlike other states. >>


See this orthis

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I came across both of these sources in my search. Unfortunately, when I click on the first link, the page it brings up can't be clicked through. All of the Articles and Parts draw blanks when clicked with IE and Firefox. Don't know why.

The second link is very good but after looking through most of the NYS Consolidated laws couldn't find much that would help with the fee.

But thanks for the effort noless.

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Well, here’s a brief update.

After intimidating most of my relatives into meeting him (at considerably expense to my family), the lawyer supposedly representing my relatives informed us in very clear terms that he is unqualified to represent us. One would think that he should have divulged this somewhat earlier.

He was to subsequently put us in contact with qualified representation, but that was six weeks ago and nary a word from him on the subject. So technically we’re bare naked now without legal representation. Fortunately, before dropping this bomb on us he delayed the next court proceeding.

Unfortunately, I’m not particularly closer to an understanding of what constitutes a fair contingency fee.

I certainly do *NOT* begrudge any attorney fair compensation for proper legal services, but it bothers me when confronted with what I consider that most peculiarly common but nevertheless unfair sense of entitlement most lawyers (qualified or not) demonstrate when put in proximity to big bucks. Oh well, pardon the rant, but at least it was short.

By the way, I received messages from several interested lawyers as a result of this topic. All reside out of state (NY), and none are members of the NYS Bar Association.

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My guess is that there was some confusion at the outset as to what the attorney was being hired to do. The quoted 3.5 % of the entire estate may well be in line with what an attorney representing the estate itself would charge to administer that estate.

On the other hand, it sounds like this attorney was never hired to represent the estate, but rather some relatives that had a claim on the estate. This would put the representation more along the line of a regular contingency case where the lawyer generally gets hired for about 25-40% of any recovery (of course this can vary depending upon the lawyer, the amount at issue, the strength of the case, ...).

Take a closer look at the fee agreement to see exactly who the lawyer was hired to represent and what he was hired to do.

--Cata

Skipping 527 Messages...
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And  a November BUMP!!

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