Hire an estate planning and probate attorney anywhere in California

My name is Paul Horn. I am an attorney and CPA specializing in estate planning, including living trusts and probate representation (inheritance cases).

Our office is located in Cerritos (where Los Angeles County meets Orange County), but we serve clients in Southern California, Northern California, and everywhere in between. This was the case even before the COVID-19 pandemic and even more so right now in 2021.

Our team was an early adopter of remote work technologies—from electronic signatures to secure teleconferencing—so we are well-equipped to represent clients hundreds of miles away just as well as the ones right around the corner.

What does it mean when an attorney “specializes” in estate planning, trust, and probate, and why does it matter?

When deciding which estate planning attorney to choose, it is crucial to visit their website and check their areas of practice. “Do-overs” in estate planning are either prohibitively expensive or impossible: after all, you cannot come back from heaven and change the terms of your living trust…

If the same attorney practices in many different areas – from immigration law to family law to estate planning – it is usually a red flag. You would not trust a heart surgeon who also claims to be a podiatrist, a dentist, and a gastroenterologist, right? When we need help with complex matters, we usually see a specialist, whether it is a medical doctor or an attorney.

Rest assured, Paul Horn Law firm exclusively specializes in living trust and probate matters. This is the only area of practice for every single member of our team, including paralegals and assistants.

Why some California lawyers are called Certified Specialists in Estate Planning, Trust, and Probate Law?

Any licensed attorney can practice in estate planning, but only a small percentage of elite attorneys are certified as specialists by the State Bar of California. In fact, less than 1% of all lawyers in California have been certified as a specialist in estate planning, trust, and probate law.

The State Bar of California, the certifying authority for attorneys, developed a “certified specialist” program so that it is easier for you to know that you are hiring someone who is an expert in their field. The State Bar of California certifies certain attorneys as Specialists in Estate Planning to help the public identify attorneys who have demonstrated proficiency in this specialized area of law.

I, Paul Horn, happen to be one of the attorneys who hold this prestigious designation.

To be certified, I was required to take and pass a comprehensive full-day written exam in estate planning, trust, and probate law. In addition to the exam, I was also required to demonstrate a high level of expertise and the requisite number of years of experience in estate planning.

Lastly, to become certified by the State Bar of California, I had to be favorably evaluated by other attorneys and judges familiar with my work in estate planning, trust, and probate.

When deciding on whom to hire as your probate, trust, and estate planning attorney, look for the bear sign on their website. This is a true seal of approval and whenever you choose a probate attorney who holds this designation, you know you are in good hands!

What is probate in California and why you should do everything to avoid it?

Probate is the court procedure that oversees the transfer of assets in a person’s estate after death. Probate is required even if a person has a will (but not a revocable trust). Other cases when probate is necessary in California include when a person dies intestate (without a will), or for certain assets not titled in the trust. 

A properly funded revocable trust avoids probate because the assets that are placed in it are subject to the terms of the trust and must be distributed after death as the trust directs, not as your will directs.

In layman’s terms, probate is a lengthy (one year or longer) and costly process that involves probate court in your county to ensure that rightful heirs receive the inheritance.

Learn more about three estate planning items every California should have.

California probate costs

Probate is a time-consuming process that involves marshalling and distributing a decedent’s assets through a public court process. Avoiding probate would also avoid the associated attorneys’ fees and executor’s fees. In California, attorneys’ and executors’ fees for ordinary probate proceedings are usually determined by a sliding scale based upon the gross value of the assets subject to probate, as follows:

These fees are set by California law, and both the attorney and the executor may collect them. If the executor is a family member, he or she may elect not to take the executor’s fees. In that case, the comparison of costs between a trust and a will should not consider the fees of the successor trustee or executor.

These are not the only probate expenses. In addition, expect to pay court filing fees, newspaper publication fees, etc.

Benefits of a Revocable Trust in California (Trust vs Probate)

In general, an estate plan can be implemented either by the use of wills or by the use of a revocable trust. The revocable trust generally avoids probate, and has many advantages  Some important points to note include:

  • It avoids, or may largely avoid, the probate procedure.
  • It provides a mechanism for the management of an individual’s affairs in case the individual becomes Incapacitated.
  • It often requires additional paperwork and accounting.
  • It provides more privacy for one’s financial affairs at the time of death.
  • It can have tax planning advantages for married couples.

It is important to realize that the revocable trust leaves you in complete control of your assets until the occurrence of incapacity or death. You may choose to be the trustee of your own trust or to name someone else as trustee. In either case, you will have complete power to amend the terms of the trust, withdraw property from the trust, put additional property into the trust, or revoke the trust entirely, as long as these actions are done in accordance with the terms of the trust agreement.

The terms of a trust usually require that such actions be carried out in writing, be signed by the creator of the trust and/or its trustee and that records of such actions be kept with the trust agreement. The revocable trust does not, therefore, change the substance of your ownership rights.

In layman’s terms, a well-crafted living trust in California allows the trustee to “dictate their terms from the grave.” Upon your death, appointed trustees will ensure that your assets are distributed in accordance with your wishes.

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