In developing this blog, I have received valuable training and coaching from the good folks over at “Start Blogging Today”. One of the things they emphasize is that the blogger should try to maintain specialization in the blog’s topic rather than an “include the kitchen sink” approach. I have taken this advice as a challenge to try to find a way to relate various experiences to the Estate Planning process in general, so the following is today’s effort.
Earlier today, I decided that I wanted a burrito for lunch, so I went to a nearby drive-thru and requested one. When asked if I wanted anything else, I remembered to tell them not to include onions in the burrito. The young employee responded that “I already started your order; you should have told me sooner”.
I was thinking of responding with a lecture on the Uniform Commercial Code, Contracts law, good faith dealings, etc. – people love that – but instead, I simply asked “what do you want me to do?” Quickly, the manager took over the order, and the remainder of the transaction occurred without further notable incident.
This reminded me of the common situation where clients hire a lawyer to draft their wills, but change their minds many times throughout the process. Current state ethics codes define the lawyer’s responsibilities when charging fees. For instance, in Virginia, lawyer’s fees must be “reasonable” and “adequately explained to the client”, whereas Maryland instead states that the fees cannot be “unreasonable” and must be “communicated to the client”. See Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 1.5 and Maryland Lawyer’s Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 1.5, but also see NOTE below.
In general, estate planning attorneys charge fees based on time spent, an agreed-upon fixed rate, or an estimate. Disputes can arise during the process if the client changes his or her mind multiple times regarding which beneficiaries receive what property. Some attorneys will charge additional fees for each change and others will not. To avoid surprises, be sure that it is established at the start whether there will be an additional cost for any revisions you make. After all, we don’t always remember to ask to “hold the onions” up front.
NOTE: The Virginia and Maryland Rules are linked to the Cornell University Legal Information Institute, a non-profit organization that believes “everyone should be able to read and understand the laws that govern them, without cost”. While an outstanding and thorough site, perhaps the best source of state law are each state’s official website (although in many cases, these sites can be more difficult to navigate).