What can we do if our lawyer is not acting competently?

1 answer | Last updated: Oct 12, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

Our 92 year old attorney for the family trust is showing signs of dementia. He is handling a stock portfolio and sale of property from our grandparents. He has been the family lawyer for over 50 years. How can we find out what he has done with our accounts? He has not answered any of our questions and has been hostile over the telephone. We live in another state and our monthly stipend is 3 months late. These payments help with the care of our mother who has Alzheimer's. My husband is her sole heir and primary caregiver. There is no money to hire another attorney. There are also no other family members who live in California who could make an in-person visit for us.

Expert Answers

Barbara Repa, a Caring.com senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

While there's something admirable about staying on the job at the age of 92, there's nothing to be admired about ignoring a client's requests. In fact, the behavior you describe could well constitute the negligent practice of law, which is a fairly serious offense.

It seems likely that your lawyer may be winding down his practice"”and this is the time to be sure you get on the radar screen. Your instinct to have others make a personal visit was a good one. But since there are no family members living in California, your best bet may be to contact the State Bar there at www.calbar.ca.gov/Attorneys/LawyerRegulation/FilingaComplaint.aspx.

Explain your situation to the representatives there; I have found that they're fairly responsive, especially on the phone.

Even if you decide not to file a formal complaint against the lawyer, bar authorities will investigate your allegations"”and this is very often the action that gets the lawyer to sit up and take notice or to right an ongoing wrong.