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California Living Trust creation: should you do it yourself?

Estate planning: Do-it-yourself versus seeking experienced legal advice

If you are considering a DIY California Living Trust creation service or software, please read this article before doing anything.

It is only in the last 13 years or so that the first online service for the creation of legal documents appeared. Since that time various websites and software have popped up all over the web. There is a lot of money to be made for these businesses that can use legal boilerplate to mass produce legal documents to the public. But the question remains, is it a good idea to utilize a California Estate Planning creation kit or website?

The main distinctions between an attorney and a DIY website

Drafted by an Attorney

There is a huge distinction between do it yourself estate planning and an estate plan created by an attorney. The California estate planning lawyers at the Law Offices of Jack B. Friedell have drafted over a thousand estate plans. In doing so, we have dealt with a wide range of clients with countless nuances pertaining to family, health and finances. The knowledge and wisdom that this experience brings is priceless.

No DIY website or software can come close to providing its users with the same education. However, that does not stop the websites and software creators from making claims that with just a little effort you can educate yourself on the main points of a solid estate plan. Of course, these same sites back that claim up with a disclaimer to any liability that the company’s do-it-yourself software may cause. Don’t be fooled; there is a reason these sites are riddled with disclaimers.

How much time did your attorney take with you?

This is an important question to consider. The reason this is important is because there are various associations out there where you pay a membership fee to have access to a network of attorneys. By paying the association dues you receive a huge discount on the cost of legal services. But here is the problem. The attorney you are speaking with (typically over the phone) will spend on average about 20 minutes with you. For some people this might be a sufficient amount of time. However, unless you are a turn key family with no desire to do anything other than avoid probate chances are you need to have an in depth conversation with your estate planning attorney to really get to the heart of matter. Unfortunately, that is not what you will receive for your discounted membership price. Instead, you will get a cookie cutter estate plan that was put together over a 20 minute phone call.

Poignant Questions

When you first visit the Law Offices of Jack B. Friedell for a free consultation of your California Estate Planning needs you will notice that we do not rush our clients. Instead, we sit down with our clients and educate them on the estate planning process. We talk over the various documents in a typical estate plan such as a Living Trust, a Will, a Power of Attorney, and an Advance Health Care Directive. We highlight key areas of each, uniting our client’s desires and needs with the specific document that incorporates that desire and need.

Further, for clients with sizable estates looking to avoid estate taxes or for clients seeking to provide for a new spouse, we offer valuable solutions in the form of more advanced estate planning tools such as AB or QTIP trusts, Irrevocable Life Insurance Trusts, Qualified Personal Residence Trusts and Qualified Terminable Interest Property Trusts.

In contrast, DIY trust and will creation websites and software ask the same specific questions to every individual. Any follow up questions are pre-programmed into the software. There is no personal touch whereby an experienced attorney guides you through the various nuances of your specific estate plan based on your specific desire and needs.

The reality is, most people don’t know the right questions to ask when it comes to formulating an estate plan. Even worse, most people don’t know the consequences of choosing a do it yourself estate plan compared to having an attorney prepare your plan. The number one consequence is the high cost of correcting any errors or having your estate go through the probate process because your trust was not properly funded.

Do you really save that much money?

Consider this: in California your home is valued at the fair market value and not the net value (FMV minus your mortgage). The threshold for probate in California is $150,000. That means any homeowner with a home valued at $150,000 or more will have their estate probated when both spouses die if the home is not in a California living trust. An estate worth $150,000 will pay $5,500 in probate fees alone. Therefore, doesn’t it make sense to pay the few hundred dollars more now for a proper California estate plan than roll the dice and hope your DIY living trust you prepared through a kit or website was done correctly?

And for those California residents who only have a Will, please note that a Will does not avoid probate in California. A Will is a road map for the court on how you want your assets distributed upon your death. All California estates with or without a Will must pass through probate if the estate is valued over $150,000. Therefore, if all you have is a Will and you have assets above $150,000, you need to consider creating a living trust.

The bottom line is this: paying an attorney between $1,000 to $3,000 for a rock solid estate plan is pennies on the dollar compared to doing it incorrectly and having your entire estate probated. A typical probate will consumer about 4-6% of your total estate in court costs, legal fees, appraisal fees, CPA fees, etc…That means for an estate valued at $1,000,000, the total fees associated with having to go through probate could be between $40,000-$60,000.

Help With Funding Your Trust

A trust is only as good as the assets that are inside the trust. Failure to properly fund your trust can cause all sorts of problems, with the most painful being that your estate is forced to go through a costly California probate. At the Law Offices of Jack B. Friedell, we help guide our clients through the funding of their trust. We will even talk to the various financial institutions on our clients behalf if necessary. We go the extra mile for our clients. No do it yourself estate plan will provide this level of service to make sure your trust is properly funded.

Free Follow-Up Consultation

Finally, another difference between the Law Offices of Jack B. Friedell and the various DIY Will and Trust companies is that we offer a lifetime free follow-up consultation. Once we have worked with you to create your estate plan we welcome our clients to call with future questions. We also offer periodical free consultations to see if your documents align with your current needs. Estate planning for us is not a onetime affair but a lifelong relationship. No online trust creation service offers this type of personal attention and level of care.

Finally, if cost is an issue please ask us about our estate planning payment plans.

Familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of estate planning here.

The authors, publisher and host are not providing legal, accounting, or specific advice to your situation.

San Diego Probate: the Ins and Outs

What happens to someone’s assets when they die? Often, the assets will need to pass through probate. A California estate with assets of $150,000 or real property worth more than $20,000 will most likely need to go through the probate system.

If the decedent had a Will, then the executor of the Will files a probate with the court. However, if the decedent died intestate, (without a Will), the court will usually appoint an administrator who takes on the role of the executor. The main point is that a San Diego probate occurs with or without a Will.

The probate of an estate in San Diego takes place at the Central Division Probate Court located at 1409 Fourth Avenue, San Diego CA 92101. Even if you have a North County San Diego Probate, the probate will still take place downtown.

The actual probate process entails proving the validity of a Will (if there is a Will), appointing an executor or administrator, inventorying the estate property, appraising the estate property, alerting and paying creditors, paying taxes, and distributing the remaining property as put forth in the decedent’s will or in accordance with state law if the decedent died intestate.

Probate is a long, drawn out process that takes between nine and eighteen months. Some more complicated estates can take years, especially when there is a probate litigation involved. In order to move the probate process along as quick as possible, it is important that you seek out the counsel of an experienced San Diego probate lawyer, such as at the Law Offices of Jack B. Friedell.

Probate is public. Notice of the petition for probate is sent to all named beneficiaries of the Will and to anyone who would have received had the decedent died without a Will. In addition to virtually every family member receiving notice, the court documents are open to the public—meaning anyone can see what the assets are and where the assets are going.

If the decedent died without a Will in San Diego, the assets in the estate pass according to California’s intestate succession rules, governed by Probate Code § 6400. Essentially, when there is no Will in California, the deceased’s assets pass to any children, then parents, and on and on down the family tree.

Some ways to avoid probate in San Diego: 1. Prepare and fund a living trust. 2. Joint tenancy 3. Payable on death accounts. 4. Beneficiary designations on accounts such as life insurance, retirement accounts and IRAs.

There is also a more streamlined court supervised process for spouses and domestic partners in San Diego called a Spousal Property Petition.

Probate can be very expensive. Attorney fees are set by statute (CPC §10800) and are determined based on the value of the probate estate: 4% of the first $100,000; 3% of the next $100,000; 2% of the next $800,000; 1% of the next $9,000,000; ½% of the next $15,000,000; the court will assign a reasonable amount on estates valued above $25,000,000. There are often additional fees from appraisers and CPAs. All told, a San Diego probate can run around five to six percent of the total value of the estate.

To consult with an experienced San Diego Probate attorney who can advise and guide you through the probate of an estate in California, or for any other questions regarding estate planning in San Diego, please contact the Law Offices of Jack B. Friedell today.

The authors, publisher and host are not providing legal, accounting, or specific advice to your situation.


Six reasons a Living Trust is superior to a Will in California.

Estate Planning 101: Living Trust versus a Will in California

Most people believe that a Will is all that is needed in order to pass on the assets in their estate. However, what most people fail to realize is that a Will is not going to be a sufficient California Estate Planning tool. That is because a Will comes up short in several key respects when compared to a Living Trust (also known as a Revocable Trust or Inter Vivos Trust).

Six reasons a Living Trust is superior to a Will in California.

1. A Trust avoids probate whereas a Will still goes through probate court.

A Will is simply a road map for the Probate Court to follow. A Will does not avoid probate; it simply directs the Probate Court judge on how you want your assets distributed upon your death. The judge will follow your wishes in your Will but your estate will still be on the hook for all probate related fees (such as attorney fees, CPA fees, appraisal fees, etc…). The total fees for the probate of an estate in California can be as high as 5-6% of the total value of the estate.

However, a Living Trust, set up by an experienced California Trust Attorney, avoids the entire probate process. That means the bulk of the assets will pass without any fees to the intended beneficiaries. It also means that there is no court involvement. Therefore, the value of a Living Trust is that it avoids probate fees and probate court. The small cost involved in setting up a properly funded Living Trust compared to the total savings a Trust provides by avoiding Probate is substantial.

2. A Trust can hold beneficiary assets whereas assets pass at age 18 with a Will

A Trust can be designed so that the assets pass to beneficiaries at a desired age. For example, a Trust can have language in it that gives 25% to a child upon completion of college, another 25% upon reaching age 25, with the remaining 50% at age 30. This allows a beneficiary to receive their inheritance in small chunks instead of in a bulk sum. Perhaps the beneficiary will have blown through the initial 25% and will be more disciplined in how they spend the next 25%.

However, with a Will, the beneficiary receives everything at age 18. That means a financially inexperienced teenager will receive their entire portion of the estate at 18. This can cause a lot of problems, including the beneficiary blowing through their entire inheritance.

3. California Trust Administration vs. California Probate

A typical California Trust Administration can take around three to nine months. That is assuming the Trust was created by an experienced California Trust Lawyer (some trust administrations can take a lot longer depending on the quality of the trust).

A typical California Probate can take anywhere from nine to eighteen months. Some more complicated probates can take years.

The bottom line is that the beneficiaries will receive their assets much quicker via a Trust than a Will.

4. A Living Trust is private whereas a Will is public

A Will is open to the public. In fact, notice of the decedent’s passing must be given to every beneficiary named in the Will and to every beneficiary who would have received had the deceased died intestate (without a Will). Further, anyone can access the probate court documents. There is absolutely no privacy with a California Probate.

A Trust is completely private. Notice of the decedent’s passing is given only to the heirs of the Living Trust. There is no court supervision, no court interaction and no public disclosure.

5. A Living Trust is harder to contest than a Will

Since a Will is open to the public and since notice is given to all named beneficiaries and to every beneficiary who would have received had the deceased died intestate, there is a much greater chance for a Contest by any potential heir who was left out of the Will.

However, due to the private nature of a Trust, there are very few parties involved. Therefore, there is less likelihood that anyone will Contest the Living Trust.

It is highly beneficial to avoid a California Will or Trust Contest because of the high cost associated with a Contest. Often, the cost of defending the Will or Trust Contest comes straight out of the assets of the estate, depleting the estate’s assets.

6. A Trust avoids court involvement at incapacity

In California, if a person becomes incapacitated, typically a member of the family petitions the Probate Court for a Conservatorship. This applies whether the incapacitated person has a Will or not. Then the Court decides who the appropriate Conservator will be.

A properly created Living Trust will list a Successor Trustee (as well as one or two backups). The Successor Trustee will take over for the Trustor upon the Trustor’s incapacity. There is no court involvement and the Trustor gets to choose the person and not the court.

One final note: a Will is still necessary when creating an estate plan. The Trust will hold all of the assets in the estate. However, every good Trust needs a “Pour Over Will” to grab any assets outside of the Trust and “pour” the assets back into the Living Trust. An experienced California estate planning lawyer will almost always recommend a Will to compliment a Living Trust.

In summary, the small price involved in setting up a California Revocable Trust far outweighs the time and money saved by avoiding probate. For questions on the above content or for any other legal advice dealing with California Living Trusts, an experienced North County San Diego will and trust attorney can help. Please contact the Law Offices of Jack B. Friedell today.

The authors, publisher and host are not providing legal, accounting, or specific advice to your situation. 

Estate Planning 101: What does a typical estate plan include?

Estate Planning FAQ: What an Estate Plan from the Law Offices of Jack B. Friedell Includes.

Brought to you by the Law Offices of Jack B. Friedell.

Not all estate plans are equal. A typical California estate plan drafted by the Law Offices of Jack B. Friedell will include:

Living Trust
Last Will and Testament (pour over will)
Durable Power of Attorney
Advance Healthcare Directive
Assignment of Personal Property
Certificate of Trust
Declaration of Trust
Quitclaim Deed
Estate Organizer

A living trust in California will help keep your assets with your beneficiaries and away from the probate court.

A Will, also known as a pour over will, lets everyone know that you intend for all your assets to pour into your living trust.

A power of attorney will allow your agent to manage your financial affairs if you become incapacitated. Most importantly, it will allow your spouse to continue to make gifts or to move assets around to ensure that you qualify for medicare or Medi-Cal.

Your advance health care directive, or living will, takes care of your end of life decisions so those you love do not have to make the hard end of life decisions for you.

An assignment of personal property lets the world know that you intend for all your non-titled assets to flow into your trust.

A declaration of trust declares to the world that you intend that all your assets are to be trust assets. This is a great tool to protect your estate from a potential probate and bring property or assets into your trust that were left out during your life.

A quitclaim deed is simply a form that your estate planning attorney fills out on your behalf to place any real property into your trust.

Finally, an estate plan organizer keeps all your pertinent files together so that your trustee can locate everyone and everything necessary to properly administer your estate. Plus, funding instructions are included to make sure all your assets are properly titled and place into your trust.

For questions on the above content or for any other legal advice dealing with estate planning in California, a California estate planning lawyer can help. Please contact the Law Offices of Jack B. Friedell today.

The authors, publisher and host are not providing legal, accounting, or specific advice to your situation.

Original estate planning documents

Does your trustee or executor know where your original estate planning documents are? Keep your contact information up to date.

Written by the Law Offices of Jack B. Friedell.

We recently took over the practice of another attorney. One of the problems we are faced with is contacting old clients whose information has not been kept current.

It is a common practice for attorneys to hold their clients original documents. Often clients will give their drafting attorney the original estate planning documents because the attorney has a fireproof safe or some other way to keep the documents safe. But an important factor would be keeping the attorney abreast of any new living arrangements and contact information.

I am not placing blame on anyone but if I had given my attorney important information for safekeeping, such as my original estate planning documents, I would do my best to make sure my attorney could find me if necessary.The problem usually arises when the client has forgotten that they left the documents with their drafting attorney. A lot of time passes and the client believes they have their originals, probably in their safety deposit box. Little do they know they might be setting their beneficiaries up for disaster because no one knows where the originals are and the grantor or settlor has died.

Now, it may be that the client has passed on their attorney’s information to their trustee or executor, and the client did not believe it was necessary to keep the attorney in the loop in regards to a new address and/or phone number. However, my suggestion (not legal advice, just a suggestion) would be that if you move or change your phone number you will want to make sure the attorney who is holding your original documents knows your new information. And you might even go an extra step and give yourself an annual reminder to check in with the attorney to make sure all is well and that no new legislation has passed that might be relevant to your estate. That way, in case something serious happens, such as the attorney passing away or a new law passing, you can be notified.

For questions on the above content or for any other legal advice dealing with California estate planning documents, a California estate planning attorney can help. Please contact the Law Offices of Jack B. Friedell today.

The authors, publisher and host are not providing legal, accounting, or specific advice to your situation.