Dear Mr. Miller:
I already have a Living Trust but I find that I have a rental property in Los Angeles that is titled just in my name, not the Trust. I called a local attorney to do a deed to put the rental in the name of the Living Trust. Since I was leaving on a trip two days later I wanted to see him that day. I knew there wasn’t much for him to do–I mean how long does it take to create a deed–so I thought I could come back the next day, sign it, pay him, and all would be good. But lawyers are so difficult to get a hold of, they are never available when you call; and schduling an appointment that day–it was like I was asking for the crown jewels–particularly when I said I needed the deed ready the next day! Suggestions?
Dear Deed Guy:
Same Day Appointment– Problems: I have been presented with this same scenario on more than one occassion. I’m going to guess that the attorney you called was not the one who drafted your Living Trust, so you had never seen this guy or gal previously. Let’s think about this situation. Would you expect to get into a physician’s office the same day if you are not already one of his patients? Probably not. Attorneys are no different. Successful ones have cases and clients on which they are currently working; they are not sitting in the back room just waiting for the phone to ring. They can’t drop everything just because you, someone they have never met, has an emergency. What they can do is have their staff find out what the problem is and schedule you within a reasonable time. It sounds like maybe the person you called offered exactly that. On the several occassions I have received these calls from complete strangers, requiring me to completely rejuggle my calendar, they suggested that the fee should not exceed $150.
Let’s examine this situation and see where you have gone wrong, or things that might go through my mind when my staff presents this scenario to me. First, why are you not calling the attorney who actually drafted your Living Trust. Is it because you have not seen him in so long, you have forgotten who it was? Most attorneys will do favors and bend their calendar for loyal clients. But if I have never seen this person before, I’m not going to drop what I’m doing for existing, paying clients just because someone I have no prior relationship calls–that would be unfair to the existing clients as I would have to delay their work.
Rushing Means Errors: Second, you want me to drop everything and draft a deed in one day. Now, physically and mechanically, I can do that; you’re right, deeds typically are not difficult to draft, especailly if we already have a template on our computer (most of us do). But do you have the old deed with a legible legal description or is it one we must type and it is three pages long–that takes time to type and time to proofread? Let me tell you about a deed snafu that we uncovered and was caused because the attorney who drafted it didn’t go through the proper steps, i.e. didn’t take the time. It was a new client who had a Living Trust that was drafted by someone else in town. The client had purchased a house several years earlier and had had the original attorney transfer the title to his Living Trust. As we went through our procedures, we discovered that the title to his house was not in the Trust at all; what the attorney had done was transfer title to the house the client had just sold into the Trust. Now, this wasn’t totally the attorney’s fault; the client had given the attorney the wrong deed, the one to the old house he no longer owned. But the attorney and his staff did not bother to verify that they had the correct deed, that the deed they had was for the address where the client currently resided. If the client had died, we probably would have had a Probate Proceeding, the major reason why the client had a Living Trust in the first place. So why do I bring this up? Because following the proper procedures takes time.
Attorneys Give Advice & Recommendations: Let’s move onto #3. I generally won’t accept an estate planning client without reviewing what documents they have in place currently. That means I need to reveiw your existing Living Trust, your family situation, your other assets, your concerns and goals. After all, if you are going to become my client, you will be looking to me for advice and recommendations. I can’t give you any without knowing those details. And all of this takes time. Or, on the other hand, are you just looking for a one-shot relationship with me and plan to never see me again. Why would I want to take on the liability and responsiblity that I would have to you for a one shot, never see you again, all for $150, relationship? If that’s what you want then you should go to a legal document assistant firm (LDA). But here’s something to think about before you see that LDA.
Quality, Speed, and Cost: And then there is #4. You want high quality (you don’t want the screw up I alluded to above), low cost ($150 is low cost), and speed (next day). That is what is often referred to as the unattainable triangle. In other words, choose any two, but you generally are not going to get all three.