We often highlight mistakes that we have witnessed throughout our professional careers and use them as a teaching tool to prevent such mishaps in the future. This blog offers one such anecdotal story. It is not uncommon to find many law firms or solo practitioners that list estate planning and/or estate and trust administration as a practice area for them or their firm. For many of these lawyers, when you ask them what services they offer, their answer usually involves a long list that ends with a variation of the phrase “and estate planning.” Those three words encapsulate the inherent problem; these lawyers view estate planning and/or estate and trust administration as a side practice or add-on to their main practice areas in order to diversify their practice and capture more clients.
At Altman & Associates we have two main practice areas, estate planning and probate/trust administration. These practice areas are a full time job and require such attention in order to be done correctly and effectively. For example, this firm has recently been retained in a matter involving the administration of two estates (a deceased married couple). The assets involved in these estates would by no means qualify them as complex. Prior to our engagement, another lawyer had been working with this client for 3 years. Had this client been counseled appropriately, we are confident that both estates could have been administered and closed within 18 months. However, these estates were neglected. Each account that was filed over this 3 year period failed to include the necessary details of the account transactions over these periods. At some junctures, the previous lawyer merely stated the beginning value and closing value of the account as unchanged in order to get the accounting on record. This is unacceptable and speaks to the lack of detail witnessed often when individuals who do not focus on estate planning and/or estate and trust administration undertake to complete these tasks.
In addition to the failed administration of the probate process, other details of the administration, i.e. fiduciary income tax returns, were never filed for the estates. Whoever was advising this client systematically failed. So, what is the end result? Our firm has now been working for months with this client to piece all of the financial and IRS data together from this 3 year period. Because of the flawed administration of both estates, it is necessary that we amend all estate accountings that have been filed with the Register of Wills and resubmit them with the proper level of detailed transaction information and account balances. Once that is complete, all fiduciary income tax returns will need to be completed, most of which are late by many years.
As you can see, our job sometimes entails cleaning up messes that could have been avoided. Our goal is to do it right the first time around. Rectifying previously made mistakes can costs client thousands upon thousands of unnecessary dollars. Learn from this example; be smart in general when choosing a professional to complete any level of work for you. Make sure that the individual you have chosen has the requisite knowledge to complete the task correctly the first time around.
– Adam Abramowitz, Esq.