Lawyers can be personal representatives of wills

Posted May 02, 2010, at 7:37 p.m.

Q. I am an elderly person who lives alone with no surviving relatives. I do have property and a will, but don’t know anyone well enough to ask them to be my personal representative when I die. Can I ask the attorney who is helping me write my will to do this for me?

A. Yes, a lawyer who assists a client in drafting a will may serve as personal representative of the will. The lawyer would be entitled to compensation for serving as personal representative at a reasonable rate. The lawyer should explain to the client what the rate would be for serving as personal representative, what is likely to be involved in probating that client’s estate, and what the estimated cost to the estate would be. The lawyer also should have the client sign an agreement that such cost would be paid by the estate.

If the client has a large estate, the cost of probating the estate will be higher, as probate likely would involve selling property, changing title to property and assets from the client’s name to the estate’s name, then ultimately, to the beneficiaries; paying the client’s bills; and carrying out any other instructions in the will.

In Maine, the lawyer is not allowed to charge a fee based on a percentage of the value of the estate. To determine what a “reasonable fee” would be you may need to compare several proposals. You can do that with referrals made through the Lawyer Referral Service operated by the Maine Bar Association or, if you are elderly, you can check with Legal Services for the Elderly.

Typically, the duties of a personal representative are not as complicated as those of a lawyer. The client might ask if the lawyer would be delegating some of the administrative tasks of probating the estate to a paralegal, who would work at a lower hourly rate, while the lawyer would deal with the legal paperwork, such as probate filings and drafting deeds.

This column is a service of the Lawyer Referral and Information Service of the Maine State Bar Association. Its contents are a general response to the question and do not constitute legal advice. Questions are welcome. E-mail AAL@mainebar.org, describe your question and note you are a BDN reader. Written questions mailed to “Ask a Lawyer,” Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor, Maine, 04402-1329 will be forwarded to the LRIS.

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