Author Topic: Had a will made.. Just got the bil, holy ****!  (Read 18372 times)

Mustache_In_Training

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Re: Had a will made.. Just got the bil, holy ****!
« Reply #50 on: June 12, 2015, 01:17:34 PM »
Thank you for letting us enjoy and learn from the play-by-play.  What's done is done, but here's my 2 cents:

You responded to his weak email with an even weaker one.  You actually had a better shot of meeting in the middle (or doing even better) if you stood firm at $1,000 and making it about principal.  I don't think he's going to drop the price any lower.  You've now validated why the price went up (revisions).  I think you would have been better served acting as though his original estimate 700-1000 already included the cost of potential revisions.  Even if he were to think you were a dummy for thinking that, that would have been a great thing.  You never want to get in an argument with a dumb, principled person who feels strongly about his position and is willing to tell the world about it.  That's a very strong negotiating position. 

What's the old phrase?  Never get in an argument with a crazy person because after a while, people won't be able to tell which one is the crazy person.  I butchered that terribly, but hopefully you see my point.

Please tell us what happens next!  I'm happy to be proven wrong.

Hah! You may be right, but I hope I can still negotiate without appearing to be "a dumb, principled person who feels strongly about his position and is willing to tell the world about it."

I will be sure to let everyone know the next turn of events!

Roothy

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Re: Had a will made.. Just got the bil, holy ****!
« Reply #51 on: June 12, 2015, 02:19:00 PM »
Unless there is more to this story, that lawyer is behaving *really* badly.  First, sending you an outrageously high bill--and then blaming it on his billing department.  Second, charging you extra for "revisions"--one of which is his fault (the misspelling) and the other of which is his incompetence (not listing future children.  It is standard/routine to include  a provision that deals with future children.  He should have asked you about it in the initial consult.)

I agree, though, that you responded with a weak letter to his $1500 offer.  I'm unclear on why what sounds like an incredibly simple will (unless there are things you are not telling us) would be more than the low end estimate of $750.  I'd have countered with that.  And I'm mad at this lawyer on your behalf.  This is what gives lawyers a bad name.

For what it's worth, I disagree with those who are suggesting that writing a simple will is something for which you should pay more than $300 or so to a lawyer.  They, too, are using templates specific to their state, making revisions as appropriate.  But if your case is very simple, with no real revisions from the standard needed, not only don't you need to spend $750--you should probably just go with something like LegalZoom.

Fuzz

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Re: Had a will made.. Just got the bil, holy ****!
« Reply #52 on: June 12, 2015, 03:46:10 PM »
Lawyer here. I agree that $2500 for a Will (plus 9 hours of drafting time) is pretty ridiculous for a run of the mill estate plan. Most lawyers use special software to crank that out, which is how most wills are done for $700-$1000.

However, I would pay the $1500 and move on with your life. Yes, it's $500 more than the estimate. But resolving the dispute has value. It's fine to ask for $1000, but if you can't get him to agree to that, then my advice is to pay up and move on. The fee dispute provisions work both ways and you risk a claim against yourself if you stiff him.

arebelspy

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Re: Had a will made.. Just got the bil, holy ****!
« Reply #53 on: June 14, 2015, 12:42:02 AM »
Fun story, thanks for sharing.  I'm interested to see how it finally turns out.  I think he'll take the 1250.

  I'd be much more likely to consider it if you started a conversation versus an attack.

Noted. Thanks, I will be nice. I forget I'm dealing with a professional. I'm used to dealing with customer service, where if you want something fixed you have to be upfront about your demands.

I've found that the same works with customer service--start a conversation, and be friendly.  You don't have to start aggressive.  Yes, you will need to be clear, but that shouldn't mean rude (not that you were saying it does, but just adding the note that whomever you're dealing with, trying to get them on your side is a winning tactic, be them a "professional" or otherwise).
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LouLou

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Re: Had a will made.. Just got the bil, holy ****!
« Reply #54 on: June 14, 2015, 01:24:57 AM »
Just putting this out there -

I once worked at a firm that had some incompetents with billing/admin duties.  This type of thing happened several times.  The billing attorney would send in specific changes to the bill, and it would go to the client late and crazy.  The incompetents were fired when a client took their business elsewhere because of it.

My guess is that the partner cut the associate's time but the changes were not made before the bill went out.

Bob W

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Re: Had a will made.. Just got the bil, holy ****!
« Reply #55 on: June 14, 2015, 09:01:30 AM »
I would chat with the Lawyer. Obviously, it's an error (giving him the benefit of the doubt) and you're giving him notice so that he can correct it. Be nice.

If he balks, a mention of a Bar Complaint, will usually have an attorney's attention.
+1

mrshudson

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Re: Had a will made.. Just got the bil, holy ****!
« Reply #56 on: June 14, 2015, 09:20:32 AM »
I practice law and agree that even agreeing to $1250 was unnecessary. Remember, as a client, you are in charge. Yes, the initial amount is an estimate, but as you pointed out, one of the errors was at their end, which means it should not cost you anything to have it fixed. Moreover, the fact that the initial estimate was a range, implies that the $1000 is the upper limit. For future reference, here's some language for flagging these things (both first shot at contacting and for standing your ground):

Assume: Mid-western law firm, where understatement and politeness wins over an outright attack.

Dear Lawyer,

Thank you for your invoice dated ____________. Per our notes, we see that the initial estimate was between $700-$1000. The invoice indicates an amount that is 2.5 times the ceiling of the estimate, and understandably, we are concerned. We request a revised invoice commensurate with the original estimate, considering that the final work product was not out of scope with the one initially requested by us.

Sincerely,
__________

By doing the above, you are flagging that this is a problem, and giving them opportunity to consider the issue and win you over by their excellent client service.

And  if the lawyer responds to you with the weak sauce e-mail, follow-up like this:

Dear lawyer,

Thank you for your explanation, I recognize that discrepancies in accounting can and do occur. However, this was not a fixed fee arrangement, and the initial estimate quoted to us was a range based on the hourly billing arrangement. Our understanding is that $700 is the typical lower end of the fees, and if any changes or revisions to the work were to be requested, those would still be captured in the upper end of $1000. While we believe that the extent of the changes we requested  did not warrant ____ hours of additional work at $ ____/hour billing rate, we are happy to pay the upper limit of $1000 for the work performed.

(Optional: If you have been generally happy with the work quality/lawyer expertise except for the pricing discrepancy) Except for this one issue, I have been generally happy with the work you have done for us and would consider referring you, should that need arise with my colleagues.

Sincerely,


Lawyers *love* referrals and any potential for one would mean that they are immediately on your side. So I would throw that in there if I was happy with the lawyer you were communicating with (assuming senior associate/managing partner). Believe it or not, sometimes excellent lawyers get stuck with sub-par accounting department and/or legal assistants and can't do anything about it if it's a large and bureaucratic law firm.

mrshudson

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Re: Had a will made.. Just got the bil, holy ****!
« Reply #57 on: June 14, 2015, 09:21:29 AM »
I would also advise against hostilities (e.g., bar complaint) this early into the discussion.

Alabaster

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Re: Had a will made.. Just got the bil, holy ****!
« Reply #58 on: June 14, 2015, 04:49:42 PM »
If I could just temporarily derail this back to the whole LegalZoom thing....

If your beneficiaries are a trust or charitable organization and no-one is going to contest the will, do you really need a lawyer to manually make the will?

It doesn't seem reasonable to me. Why would anyone make trouble if you pay your pound of flesh (death taxes or whatever) and leave reasonably clear instructions on what is to happen with the money?

pbkmaine

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Re: Had a will made.. Just got the bil, holy ****!
« Reply #59 on: June 14, 2015, 04:58:00 PM »
Re Legal Zoom: The ex-husband of one of my colleagues just died. She was his executor. His will was on Legal Zoom. The probate court had all kinds of trouble accepting the documents. They were not in the right order; they were stapled in the wrong place; they were notarized in the wrong place; the signatures were hard to read, and on and on and on. In the end she had to retain an attorney herself to shepherd the process through. I can tell you with my own will, which was done by a law firm, the attorney was exceptionally careful to have witnesses in the room and to ask me specific questions which they needed to be witness to. This was in addition to their witnessing my signature. The documents were arranged in a certain way. These small things appear to be quite important.

Paul der Krake

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Re: Had a will made.. Just got the bil, holy ****!
« Reply #60 on: June 14, 2015, 05:24:14 PM »
Re Legal Zoom: The ex-husband of one of my colleagues just died. She was his executor. His will was on Legal Zoom. The probate court had all kinds of trouble accepting the documents. They were not in the right order; they were stapled in the wrong place; they were notarized in the wrong place; the signatures were hard to read, and on and on and on. In the end she had to retain an attorney herself to shepherd the process through. I can tell you with my own will, which was done by a law firm, the attorney was exceptionally careful to have witnesses in the room and to ask me specific questions which they needed to be witness to. This was in addition to their witnessing my signature. The documents were arranged in a certain way. These small things appear to be quite important.
(emphasis mine)

That's just crazy. C'mon people, we as a species have been dying and leaving our crap to others since the stone age. Why is this any more complicated than signing over the title of a car? Can we lobby the state to put out 5 to 10 samples that will cover 99% of cases and will be guaranteed to be accepted?

KungfuRabbit

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Re: Had a will made.. Just got the bil, holy ****!
« Reply #61 on: June 14, 2015, 06:32:03 PM »
lawyers are scum. 

kkbmustang

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Re: Had a will made.. Just got the bil, holy ****!
« Reply #62 on: June 14, 2015, 06:41:32 PM »
I should know better by now, but I'm commenting anyway. I'm a (former) attorney/consultant, a tax attorney at that, and there are several areas of specialty I would not tackle myself. Estate planning is one of them.

While the attorney should have honored the upper end of the estimate, I think he was justified in billing more to accommodate the revisions (but not the error). Many times, what seems like a simple revision (adding a beneficiary) results in a lot of changes throughout the document - some additional paragraphs or sections are required, thereby jacking with the entire document, including internal section references. A busted reference can blow the whole meaning of a provision, which can result in extended litigation.

Also, I don't know where the OP lives, but $295 is not a high hourly rate. Based on my experience in a big city in Texas (so not NYC/DC/LA - typically more expensive areas) it's actually quite reasonable. It's also not unusual for the work to be performed by an associate and reviewed by the partner (but the fact they were both billed out at the same rate IS weird).

And I feel like I need to point out that the attorney is not personally being paid $295/hour for providing the document. There's overhead, accounting, marketing, professional fees, blah, blah, blah.

Just as a point of reference on the billing rate issue, before I stopped consulting/practicing, my hourly rate was literally $740/hour. And the most senior professionals in my firm topped out over $1,000/hour. Granted, the clients were corporate, but we were worth every last penny. And our clients were happy to have our help (even with the corresponding invoices) - it was not unusual to be at the end of project having saved a client tens of millions of dollars (legally, I feel I must add).   

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It's a saying applicable to both entities and individuals.

The OP was quoted an amount, which should have been honored. That's a totally separate issue from the one that's underlying this thread - cheaping out on legal documents, just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

lawyers are scum.

Not all lawyers are scum.

kkbmustang

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Re: Had a will made.. Just got the bil, holy ****!
« Reply #63 on: June 14, 2015, 06:51:55 PM »
Also forgot to add that the attorney should have provided you with an engagement letter BEFORE work began, which should have outlined the terms of the agreement and the scope of services to be provided. Apparently, he did not. It's so much easier to dispute something you have in writing.

I hope it all works out for you, OP.

Mustache_In_Training

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Re: Had a will made.. Just got the bil, holy ****!
« Reply #64 on: June 15, 2015, 07:04:09 AM »
UPDATE: Hi everyone,

Thanks for all the advice given! The lawyer agreed to my proposal of meeting in the middle at $1,250. I am satisfied with that. It's not the $300 some of you guys were paying, but it's not $2500 either.

I hope I never have to go through any of this again, but if I do I will feel much better prepared now.

Thanks again, the Mustachian community is awesome. It's a great place not only for financial advice, but life advice too :)

CommonCents

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Re: Had a will made.. Just got the bil, holy ****!
« Reply #65 on: June 15, 2015, 08:16:39 AM »
Glad your negotiation was successful!

JessEsq

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Re: Had a will made.. Just got the bil, holy ****!
« Reply #66 on: June 15, 2015, 08:53:55 AM »
I'm a lawyer, too. This was a great conversation to follow. A few observations:

Adding beneficiaries to a Will who are or could be minors (future children...) can be a large change requiring appointment of a guardian, testamentary trusts (which I hate) and so forth. It's possible that change was more significant than you think.

That said, a *good* attorney would have 1) advised you that the change was extensive and 2) had a written fee agreement in the first place!

We charge all of our estate planning (with only a very few exceptions) on a flat fee basis. The fee is written & signed and half paid down at the first meeting with balance at completion (or, we take payments, etc...). This would not happen in my office because I would have 1) eaten the difference in time for failing to estimate correctly or 2) advised that the change would cost more.

For a point of reference -- our charge for "simple" wills, health care and financial powers of attorney is $750-$1,000 for a married couple. It's generally a meeting to discuss, we forward drafts, and then a meeting to sign.

I wouldn't trust anything to legal zoom. It's not tailored to your situation and without precise instructions we find people witness/notarize incorrectly possibly invalidating the entire document.

Glad you resolved this dispute.

G-dog

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Re: Had a will made.. Just got the bil, holy ****!
« Reply #67 on: June 15, 2015, 04:43:56 PM »
UPDATE: Hi everyone,

Thanks for all the advice given! The lawyer agreed to my proposal of meeting in the middle at $1,250. I am satisfied with that. It's not the $300 some of you guys were paying, but it's not $2500 either.

I hope I never have to go through any of this again, but if I do I will feel much better prepared now.

Thanks again, the Mustachian community is awesome. It's a great place not only for financial advice, but life advice too :)

Glad you survived this class in the school of hard knocks - now you are wiser and the $250 may be a very cheap lesson learned.