Asked & Answered: Co-Trustees have lawyer problems…

Dear Ms. Allison: I’m trying to settle my parent’s trust. My sister and I are the beneficiaries and co- trustees of the estate. We are on our second lawyer and not getting anything done. It should be very simple to divide the trust but this second lawyer says it’s complicated. I think she is dragging it out for the money. DD, North Central Oklahoma

Dear DD:

Your assessment of the situation is troublesome. You do not say what your suspicions were about the first lawyer. There are bad people in all professions and careers. If you have hit upon two in a short time, either your process for choosing legal counsel is flawed or you have terrible luck.

My advice is to avoid hiring generalist lawyers for this very specific area of practice. Hire the very best lawyer you can find with a practice LIMITED to trusts and estates. The attorney’s hourly rate may be higher than you like, but this generally reflects higher expertise. That “top of the head” knowledge alone often results in significant time and money savings due to less need for information-gathering research and figuring out how procedures work.

Do not engage any lawyer without a written engagement letter that spells out the service to be provided. You will actually provide a lot of the information the lawyer needs to assist you. Be organized. Your job is to pay all the bills and debts, file the final tax returns and follow the dictates of the trust.

If anything that should have been in the trust did not get titled to the trust, you may have to probate as well. These things do take time. If you think you have a procrastinator as an attorney and you want to move things along, set monthly appointment to basically insist on your own deadlines to have items accomplished. Taking a long time does not necessarily mean it will cost more. It usually means nothing is being done and thus, no fees are being generated.

If you hire a mediator who is specifically experienced in estate and trust issues as well as professional negligence in those matters, you may be able to avoid hiring a third lawyer.

If you choose to move to a third lawyer, do your research. Look for credentials and experience, specifically in handling estates and trusts.

To your success, Gale Allison

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