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any legal minded and theories in USA?

Posted on 2011-09-07
Medium Priority
Last Modified: 2012-05-12
Why did my cousin not get the house when his wife died?

My Uncle told me of an event years ago. His son's wife died. They were legally married, etc. My Uncle and his son were confused to find out that alot of legal fees were going to be needed to get the house into the husband's name.
 The amount was close to $10,000 in legal fees.
 I hired a lawyer once and it was $225 an hour.
 For the math, let's use $250 an hour and $9,000 total.
 That would be 36 hours of legal fees for a house when the wife died.
 That's alot of hours over a deed when:
 1. they were married when they bought the house
 2. and married when she died
 3. and then there is "right of survivorship."

The truth is, no matter what occupation it is, there are dishonest persons.
Without some reasonable explanation, the next quickest theory is the lawyer took them for a ride. To this day they do not understand the cost and why.
Any ideas?
Standard will, they were not separated or divorced, one child.
Question by:nickg5
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LVL 16

Assisted Solution

dhsindy earned 300 total points
ID: 36499700
What state are we talking about?  The value of the house?  The value of the estate?  Why don't they ask the attorney for an itemized bill?  Remember the attorney usually pays all the court costs.
LVL 25

Author Comment

ID: 36499734
South Carolina, it happened several years ago, house worth maybe $150,000, not sure.
There was no estate, it was man and wife and they had a will and she died.
There is supposed to be right of survivorship, if one spouse dies, their half goes to the survivor "automatically."
They got robbed at gun point or there is some reasonable explanation.
I am in no position to ask my cousin for details. His father will discuss it and told me that to their very day, they do not understand why they incurred such cost for a deed transfer from dead wife to widower.
With 5-6 Americans dying every minute of every day, right of survivorship to house is a daily event.
I've done a deed of distribution and the cost was under $200.
I had a lawyer do it, only because it was a high dollar house, over $100,000, unlike a car. I could have done it without a lawyer, but wanted the "official witnesses," not a bank notary and the bank clerk as the 2nd witness.

As far as court cost there was no court hearing to it.
My sibling and I fought it out over my Father's probate for over 9 months. My legal fees were under $2000 at $225 an hour.

$10,000 or 40 hours of legal time for a deed with a deceased spouse (cousin and his wife) gives off a smell of lack of ethics or something.

LVL 17

Accepted Solution

Tiras25 earned 1700 total points
ID: 36503774
There had to have been some kind of glitch in either their marraige documents or something wrong with the house, money owed, etc, because if everything was as perfect as you say, no one would have needed a lawyer to do anything.  Not even sure why anyone would think to go get a lawyer, unless there were problems.  It's very possible your Uncle does not know all the details. Or maybe there were details the son never told him.  If they were in financial trouble and there were liens on the house from it being in her name, it would take a lot of work to get it into his name and out from under.

Did the husband remain in the house after his wife died and just continue paying the mortgage? Did he try to immediately sell it?
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LVL 25

Author Comment

ID: 36505102
He built a new house in recent years, before her death. He was previously married.

So, married, house, divorced, remarried, and that wife died from suicide (if cause of death is some way related).

The man lost his wife to suicide, his 9 year old son suffered serious psychological problems, and a $10,000 legal bill.
My Uncle is age 88, but as alert mentally as I am.
He would not hide details about the house, since he told me she killed her self. Alot of us were made to believe it was cancer.
To hide the house details and volunteer a suicide, does not sound logical.

I'm sure he helped his son pay the legal fees.

As it stands now, the Uncle is dunfounded on why the fees were that high.
His only conclusion, without some "possible theories" or "possible scenarios," is that they were taken for some $$.
LVL 17

Expert Comment

ID: 36505428
A lawyer can charge whatever the law will allow.  $2000+ per hour if they are in high demand.  If the client doesn't agree to the price, they are free to find another attorney.  With a lack of details, it is hard to understand what happenned.  Your uncle might be forgetting some of the other important details too.

A look at the chain of title would help.  But that would require a LOT of work at the courthouse.  It would tell us how the house was originally titled.  The right of survivorship is not automatic, it's a creature created by a deed...maybe it was done wrong originally.  The probate is also public record, and if this was long enough ago, it HAD to be formal and supervised by the court - and thus expensive.  You could look at the file if you're really interested.

LVL 25

Author Comment

ID: 36505477
I'll pass on the possible scenarios to my Uncle.

LVL 17

Expert Comment

ID: 36505603
Maybe the legal fees had to do with title issues paying off a mortgage or opening a probate proceeding.  Maybe the deed transferring the house to the married couple was incorrect in the first place and occasioned legal fees in order to correct it.
A married couple that buys real property should take title as "tenants by the entireties."  That form of title would ensure that when one spouse dies the other spouse inherits their share BY OPERATION OF LAW.  No Probate, no court proceeding needed at all: ownership vests automatically in the survivng spouse.
Now, lets say the deed had "tenants in common" instead of "by the entireties" I won't go into all the details, but that would mean a lot of legal work to get the house in the survivng spouse's name.


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