Lawyer problems settling parents’ trust

Dear Ms. Allison: Trying to settle my parents trust. What should I do? My sister and I are the beneficiaries and co- trustees of the estate. I am on my second lawyer and not getting anything done. It should be very simple to divide the trust but this second lawyer says I’ts complicated. I think she is dragging it out for the money. RJ in Southwestern Oklahoma

Dear RJ:

Your assessment of the situation is troublesome. You do not say what made you suspicious of the first lawyer. There are bad people in all professions and walks of life. If you have hit upon two, either your process for choosing your counsel is flawed or you have terrible luck.

My advice is to hire the very best lawyer you can find whose law practice is limited to only handling Trusts and estates. The attorney’s hourly rate may be higher than you like, because generally, this reflects higher expertise. That attorney’s “top of the head” knowledge alone often results in significant time and money savings due to less need for 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 are the one who actually provides a lot of the information the lawyer needs to assist you.

As far as administering the Trust. Be organized. Your job as Trustee is to pay all the bills and debts, file the final tax returns, and follow the dictates of the Trust as far as distributing its assets. If any item that should have been in the Trust did not get titled to it, 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 a monthly appointment to check progress and 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 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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