Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Lawyer's Fees For Estate Administration in B.C.

While surfing the Internet the other day, I came across an advertisement for kits for people in British Columbia to probate a will without legal representation.

Whatever my views are on the wisdom of people representing themselves in probate applications, I don’t have any problem with someone selling books or other materials to assist people who choose not to retain a lawyer. There are all kinds of “how to” books out there. I suppose if I had the time, I could learn how to build my own house (although I doubt that I—or anyone else-- would want to live in it). Why should law be any different?

The problem I have with this advertisement is that it misrepresents how lawyers charge for estate administration work. Specifically, the ad says,
Furthermore, you can save thousands of dollars in legal fees, as a lawyer would normally charge about two percent of the gross value of an estate. Which means, for a $100,000 estate you would probably be charged about $2,000.
At one time, lawyers in British Columbia charged according to a tariff. That was before my time, but I understand that two percent was common. But that has not been the case since I started practicing law seventeen years ago.

Lawyers in British Columbia do not have a common tariff, and we work in a competitive market. There are different ways lawyers have of determining their fees for estate work. Some may look at the percentage, and some may charge on an hourly basis. I don’t have a set formula, but when I bill, I consider the following factors:

1. the complexity of the estate;
2. the skill, knowledge and responsibility required of me;
3. the size of the estate;
4. the amount of time expended by me; and
5. the benefit of my work to my client and the estate.

There are probably quite a few bills for fees in the neighborhood of $2000 for a $100,000 estate. But for significantly larger estates, two percent would in many cases be inappropriate, unless the estate is complicated, or disputed. The do-it-yourself-kit ad implies that in straightforward probate application in respect of a 1.5 million dollar estate, lawyers in British Columbia “normally” charge $30,000 in fees. That is not the case.

In British Columbia, the fees that a lawyer charges to an executor or administrator of an estate are a matter of contract between the executor or administrator and the lawyer. The executor or administrator is entitled to be reimbursed out of the estate for his or her legal fees in respect of estate administration as long as the fees were reasonably incurred.

If you dispute a legal bill, you are entitled to have your lawyer’s accounts reviewed by a Registrar of the Supreme Court of British Columbia under Part 8 of the Legal Profession Act, S.B.C. 1998, c. 9.

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