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Around 2001 or 2002 my mother went to the law firm where my deceased father had been a partner and drafted her will. I'm not positive, but I suspect this was done after George W. Bush rewrote the tax code for wills and so it was considerably below owing any inheritance tax. Her will, as she explained to me, explains how the estate will be divided among her 3 children (not the grandchildren, just 3 equal divisions). Granted, at the time, the Bush tax cuts were due to expire in 10 years so it wasn't guaranteed, but it was likely to avoid any inheritance tax.

She told me that as a result of being married to a partner, she had free legal care if she ever needed it. That's probably a firm by firm decision and not universal, but even so, the law firm charged her $5,000 when she did her will with them.

I called the law firm recently because my Mom is getting older, just to see if I needed any advice, questions about this and that, and the lawyer I spoke to briefly told me that our estate is too small, and he'd recommend a smaller law firm to handle the estate when the time comes and that all my questions would be solved by a letter from the court when the time comes.

My question is, since the law firm is recommending that I use a smaller firm to "save money" - meaning, I would pay them, what did my mother pay the $5000 for in 2001/2002? And since they aren't going to manage the will, can I get that money back? Are they trying to get out of something they promised to do and were paid to do? Should I remind them that this was paid for long ago?

I realize manage the will might not be the right term. Oversee? I've never done this before, it's all new to me.

Simple answers light on legal terms would be appreciated. Thanks.

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My question is, since the law firm is recommending that I use a smaller firm to "save money" - meaning, I would pay them, what did my mother pay the $5000 for in 2001/2002? And since they aren't going to manage the will, can I get that money back? Are they trying to get out of something they promised to do and were paid to do? Should I remind them that this was paid for long ago?

I realize manage the will might not be the right term. Oversee?

In general, when you pay a law firm for a will, you pay them for one time drafting of and execution of documents. Everything else is extra.

It would be very unusual for payments for a will to cover future advice on estate planning and elder law, or for it to cover the probate of the will, or for it to cover updates to the will.

If there was a right to free legal services in the future it most likely did not arise from the payment for the will, it may have been an employee benefit or personal courtesy.

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I will assume that there was no legal obligation on the part of the partnership to provide perpetual payments for legal work, and that the free legal care was an informal courtesy, where they'd be happy to chat on the phone for a bit, but not spend hours and hours doing legal research, etc. You would want to be sure that there was no obligation on their part to provide free legal assistance.

You would have to look at the paperwork involved in the transaction, or interview the involved individuals to know for sure what the $5,000 was for. It might have been just writing up the will, or there may have been substantial research that went into the project; or there might have been other matters (such as writing up a power of attorney document, and so on). It is not likely that this would include prepaid handling of probate upon your mother's death, especially if this is a large firm that does multimillion dollar deals all the time. Essentially, such a firm would be legal overkill, unless the estate is really complicated. It is most likely that they have no future obligation to your mother or family.

The letters that you will get from the court almost certainly refer to the letters testamentary, a court document officially authorizing the executor to execute the will (without which, the bank etc. will not talk to you).

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