TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — 8 On Your Side is taking a closer look into the law firm that abruptly shut down with no refunds for clients.
Several clients tell us they’ve lost thousands of dollars, and their cases are at a standstill.
So how can you be sure your attorney is working for you?
These people just lost a loved one and now, they have to deal with this mess. They tell 8 On Your Side they hired this attorney to handle their affairs but now, some of them question whether he’s done much at all.
Doris Agostini spent three decades in Tampa. The former school administrator loved board games, her grandchildren and God. Her daughter, Jennifer Head, says Doris was her biggest fan and best friend. Her death was unexpected and gut-wrenching.
“So actually, I’m the person who found her dead in the kitchen, on the floor,” Jennifer Head recalled. “Your left with a lot of unanswered questions, you know, like what if I would’ve gone in there 20 minutes earlier.”
Now she has even more questions.
Jennifer says she hired attorney Dennis Szafran to handle her mother’s estate and gave him $2,000 this summer.
She claims he wasn’t communicating and then, last week, he emailed her stating “Unfortunately, the firm is insolvent and we are unable to provide refunds.”
“He said it was going to be a deposit of $2,000 and there was going to be a filing fee, and he did not do anything,” said Jennifer. “It burns me inside that there’s people in this world who still do that and take advantage of people that are going through stuff like that.”
It’s the same story, we’ve heard from other clients, including Kara Arnold.
“Very taken back, and really shocked,” said Kara.
On Thursday, we stopped by Szafran’s office and found a notice of closure, but no one answered the door, our emails or the phone.
The Florida Bar confirms that they have opened an investigation into this attorney.
So, how can you avoid a similar experience?
Lori Vella, Esq. is a probate and estate planning attorney.
“If you paid an attorney up front, you have to make sure and keep checking in, what’s the status,” Vella said. “First, what I do, is I ask, you know the date of death, when were they born, we get the death certificates and then we get a list of all of the assets, we get a list of all of the debts and we start analyzing.”
She says your attorney should be communicating with you, asking you to sign documents and to pay filing fees. If not, that’s a red flag.
“I think it’s really important that they know there’s attorneys out there, like myself, that will help them, even at a massively discounted rate, to make sure that they can get their matters settled,” Vella added.
Probate is after death. Estate planning is before it.
It’s the process of arranging for the distribution of your assets while you are alive.
It’s more difficult to know if those cases are moving along, but Vella says, typically, most estate planning shouldn’t take more than two months.