A Carroll resident decided to have a will drafted, so she went to see a local attorney. He quoted her a price, which she accepted.

We are not reporting the quoted price, because trying to determine whether an attorney’s fee for a service such as a last will and testament aligns with state or national averages, or whether it is fair, given the amount of work involved, is very difficult unless you know whether the client is well organized and has all the documentation such as land titles at hand and whether there are complicating factors such as an earlier marriage.

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The point is not the price quoted. The point is that the client reports she has received bills for more than the quoted price, has paid them, but does not yet have even a draft document to review.

Individual clients’ circumstances can drive costs up. Does she have assets such as investments held in trust for a disabled adult child? Is he in a rural or urban area? Costs tend to run lower in rural areas. Does she own a business? Does he have property held in joint ownership with rights of survival, which means the survivor receives full ownership and the property would not be part of the individual’s estate?

The Carroll resident who wanted a will is understandably unhappy. If we could back up and rerun the business deal, both parties might realize that the big thing missing seems to be communication.

Second-guesses by newspaper columnists are always risky, but it sounds like the client may have understood the quoted price to be the full charge, while the attorney may have intended to quote a price solely for drafting the document, with any research to be charged as an additional cost.

We all know verbal understandings can mean trouble. If the attorney did not provide a written contract at the first meeting that outlined the services he would perform, what he would expect from the client, and what his hourly or flat rate would be, that would have been a good time for the client to ask. If she did not get an answer she understood and approved, she could terminate the relationship.

So, what can the client do now? Is she stuck continuing to pay bills without knowing when she may receive a draft document?

She can contact the attorney to ask the, “Just how much more is this going to cost?” question that troubles her. It would be wise to put her question in writing and ask for a written reply, so she will have a record. The attorney may not be able to give an exact total, if he has not researched all issues, but this far into her situation, he should be able to give a reasonable estimate.

If he refuses, she can approach the Maryland State Bar Association to dispute the fees she has paid to date, at www.msba.org/for-the-public/dispute-an-attorney-fee, and to argue that the attorney has failed to uphold his part of the bargain.

Donna Engle is a retired Westminster attorney. Her Legal Matters column, which provides legal information but not legal advice, appears on the second and fourth Sunday each month in Life & Times. Email her at denglelaw@gmail.com.

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