Why Hiring a California Estate Planning Attorney Makes Sense

We've all taken on projects that we later realize we shouldn't have - and end up with crooked roofs, inoperable plumbing or a car engine that simply doesn't work after we tried to change our own oil. Attempting to create your own California estate plan is no different - and the consequences for doing it wrong can severely impact not only you, but your loved ones as well.

There are no second bites at the apple…

We asked Vincent J. Russo, a California attorney whose practice consists of estate planning and probate litigation, to explain why someone should let an experienced attorney prepare their estate planning documents. Here's what he told us:

The average person is not necessarily knowledgeable in the law. The information they have may be from an internet article and they may not really know California statutory law or case law. That being said, they might do it wrong and if they do it wrong there are no second bites at the apple. So, this is a pretty serious thing; it's worth spending a few dollars to make sure that it was done properly. The other main reason is they are getting professional advice and counsel, so they are at least talking to somebody who is knowledgeable in the subject.

Avoiding contests

Russo says that having a lawyer on your side is also helpful when it comes to witnesses. He explained, "If there is an issue in regards to the validity of the document and somebody is contesting it later, then there's a third party who knows what the testator's wishes were. It's not uncommon for siblings or cousins who haven't seen each other in 20 years to disagree and have some arguments over it, especially if there's not a will or trust."

He told us about a case he has now that is an excellent example of why a good estate plan is about adhering to the last wishes of the person and following their instructions. "My client left his property to very close friends of his that he lived with for 20 plus years and considered them to be his 'family.' Well, his brother doesn't like that, so he is fighting it." Situations such as this are all too common and the better the will, the better your chances of having your estate disbursed as you wanted.

How are CA estate planning attorneys compensated?

Russo says that estate planning work in California is generally performed on a flat fee basis or an hourly fee basis. However, probate is handled a bit differently. He continued, "For Probate, It's a set statutory fee in the state of California for a simple probate with no extraordinary services. That fee is four percent on the first $100,000, three percent on the next $100,000, two percent on the next $800,000 and then one percent for anything over and above that. This doesn't include extraordinary services such as litigation. Under those circumstances, attorneys generally will charge either an hourly rate or they will take it on a contingency if they feel that it's worthwhile to take it on a contingency."

Estate planning, which includes wills, trusts, health care directives and probate issues, is a complicated area of the law. Click here, if you would like to speak with an experienced California estate planning lawyer about your situation.