YANML Trusting the estate trustee - Oklahoma version
June 1, 2023 3:16 PM   Subscribe

My cousin died and left everything to a trust handled by a single practitioner lawyer. The proceeds are to to to me and a friend. My cousin died one year ago. At the end of December, the friend and I received a partial payout. Since then, we have received nothing and the lawyer has basically ghosted us. What can we do? Anything?

My cousin left an estate of about $750,000. 2/3rds to me and 1/3rd to his friend, Sam. It's set up in a trust and the trustee is a lawyer there in Oklahoma. When my cousin died - June 2 of 2022 - the lawyer burst into action. (He wrote the trust and is the trustee.) He sold the house and the truck and turned over the guns and amo and some of the furniture to experts to sell for a split of the profits. About half of the estate total was in an investment account. In December, he portioned out those accounts to me and Sam.

But the other half of the estate funds are nowhere to be seen. The lawyer has stopped communicating with us last winter and said he'd wrap it all up and have details, another distribution and a schedule for us "long before June". And that was the last we heard from him. He no longer responds to emails and does not answer calls.

Do we have any recourse? Are we going to have to hire another lawyer to get the first one to do anything? At what point is he in violation of what?

Or is this normal and Sam and I just need to chill and hope we see the money before we die?
posted by susandennis to Law & Government (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Wrapping up an estate can take a long time (a year isn't crazy), but the lawyer ghosting you is not right and not normal. If it was me, I would send a letter to the lawyer laying out that you have not heard from him since X date despite multiple inquiries and that you would like an update as soon as possible and no later than Y date (give him a couple of weeks). If that does not cause a response, then I would hire a lawyer to send a more formal letter making the demand for information. As the beneficiaries of the trust, you and the friend likely have rights to information under the applicable state law - the trustee can't refuse to provide information to the beneficiaries, typically. If you are saying there is $325k at issue, this is definitely worth spending a few thousand dollars with a lawyer to try to get some action here, if that is what it takes. Hopefully that's all it takes, but, worst case, you will need to hire someone in OK to file a lawsuit against the trustee. You definitely have recourse here.
posted by Mid at 3:28 PM on June 1 [11 favorites]

Yes. You need a lawyer.
posted by Windopaene at 3:30 PM on June 1 [5 favorites]

"Examples of complaints the state bar does have authority to investigate are:

a lawyer fails to follow through with what was promised or does not perform the action in a timely manner"

Lawyer Complaint Process - Oklahoma Bar Association
posted by readinghippo at 3:50 PM on June 1 [5 favorites]

In the state of Washington, for example,
Washington lawyers are not required to have professional liability insurance coverage. However, they are required to report to the Washington State Bar Association, on a yearly basis, whether they have coverage. They are not required to report the following: …
Oklahoma is not a state I associate with strict business regulation, but you still might be able to find out if they have malpractice insurance. There are how-to YouTube videos about it, in fact.

If they do have such insurance, a letter from another attorney might pry your money loose without further ado.

If they don't, that's a bad sign and you will have to decide, in consultation with an attorney who specializes in going after other attorneys I would say, whether it’s worth the effort.
posted by jamjam at 5:28 PM on June 1 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This sounds like fraud! Try contacting the Oklahoma Attorney General's office.
posted by mareli at 4:31 AM on June 2 [1 favorite]

A couple of other points -

1. I’m not an expert in this area, but, in general, trustees can be required to provide an “accounting” of trust assets and transactions during the time they have been trustee. I.e., how much money is there and what have you don’t with it? I would ask for an accounting.

2. I don’t think lobbing in bar complaints or attorney general complaints is likely to get you quick action. Those complaints take time to investigate and typically do not result in like a swift order from an authority requiring a lawyer to do something. It’s more bureaucratic that that at least in my experience in a different state. I would try some letters first and then having your own lawyer write/call this lawyer. If somehow this lawyer is doing something inappropriate with the trust money, the fastest recourse would be having a judge freezing the money and removing the trustee, which, again, hopefully is not needed.

3. Whether the lawyer has malpractice insurance only really matters if you assume the lawyer has stolen and spent all of the trust money and also has no other significant assets. (I’m imagining Lionel Hutz.). It’s possible those things are true, but that’s a pretty remote set of circumstances. More likely this lawyer is just sloppy or lazy or slow. Having your own lawyer “look over the shoulder” of this one is likely to do the trick.
posted by Mid at 5:32 AM on June 2 [1 favorite]

Have you confirmed that the lawyer is in fact still alive/practicing law? There are supposed to be contingencies where communication happens, responsibilities are rolled to another practice, etc but these kinds of things can be messed up. A whole lot of people have just up and died, land or been permanently incapacitated lately!

My grandparents kept outliving their lawyers- I think they went through three or so- and the last one was the kid of one of their previous lawyers, so he was in his 70s when my grandmother passed.
posted by rockindata at 6:49 AM on June 2 [3 favorites]

Is it possible the lawyer is incapacitated somehow, presumably with health reasons? Or retired? Maybe find someone local who could update you.
posted by coldhotel at 6:56 AM on June 2 [1 favorite]

Use your state's web site, find the attorney general's page, call the office and ask(as marelli suggested). Probate does take time, but you should be able to request an accounting and/or status report. Maybe you can have a qualified accountant audit the process to date. You aren't in malpractice territory until/ unless you find malfeasance.
posted by theora55 at 8:26 PM on June 2

Response by poster: I was prompted for a follow up. I don't have much.

I have confirmed that the lawyer in charge of the trust is alive and, apparently, actively NOT contacting us. The other benefactor went to his office and upon inquiring was roundly chastised by a worker in the lawyer's office for harassing the lawyer.

So we have decided to hold off for now. If we hear nothing by December (a full 12 months after the initial disbursement and the end of the tax year by which time he said long ago, all would be wrapped up), I will be calling the attorney general's office.

Thanks for all your suggestions and ideas.

I will come back and update when there is more to add.
posted by susandennis at 4:46 PM on July 2

You should hire a lawyer and not wait that long. The behavior you are describing by the lawyer is bad news and giving it more time is not likely to make things better. Hire a trusts/estates lawyer local to you with a good reputation and get some advice.
posted by Mid at 7:37 AM on July 4

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