Ethics Opinion 1969-4

July 14, 1969

SUBJECT: PAYMENTS TO WIDOW AND/OR ESTATE FOR TEMPORARY TAKE OVER OF DECEASED ATTORNEY'S PRACTICE. NAME ON DOOR AND LETTERHEAD.

I
QUESTION PRESENTED

May Attorney B step into the practice of deceased Attorney A to save and maintain the practice for the benefit of the widow of Attorney A until the widow passes the Bar examination in about three years?

May Attorney B retain the name of Attorney A on the door and letterhead?

II
ANALYSIS

It is the Committee's informal opinion that Attorney B can take over the practice of Attorney A and reimburse the estate of Attorney A for the reasonable value of services rendered by Attorney A on cases in progress prior to Attorney A's death. This reimbursement can be figured on either an hourly rate for the number of hours for services rendered by Attorney A up to the date of his death, if the case was handled on an hourly basis, or on a percentage of time spent by Attorney A as against the total time involved in carrying the case to its conclusion, if the case was a flat fee or contingent fee matter. As to any former client of Attorney A who comes into the office after Attorney A's death for legal services and retains Attorney B, that client, and the resultant fee belongs to Attorney B and cannot be split in any manner with Attorney A's widow or his estate.

Since Attorney A is now deceased, and there was no pre-existing partnership between Attorneys A and B, the opinion of the Committee is that Attorney A's name cannot appear on the office door or letterhead.

If Attorney B desires to retain Attorney A's widow as his legal secretary, he can do so and pay her a salary commensurate with the services rendered by her for Attorney B.

It is further suggested that as to any work in process, the clients be informed that Attorney A has died, and that their files may be picked up by them, if they desire, at their convenience at the office.

This opinion is advisory only. It is not binding upon the State Bar, the Board of Governors, its agents or employees.

 

Disclaimer: This opinion was issued by the Legal Ethics Committee of the San Diego County Bar Association. It is advisory only and is not binding upon any member of the SDCBA, any other member of the State Bar of California, the State Bar of California or its Board of Governors, or any persons or tribunals charged with regulatory responsibilities. The SDCBA, its officers, directors, agents, and the Legal Ethics Committee members assume no responsibility or liability in rendering this opinion.