estate planning

How to Set Up Your California Estate Plan

You need a California estate plan. Our attorneys will make it pleasant and easy.

If you’re reading this, you already know you need a living trust estate plan to protect your family and assets. The question is how do you set up your estate plan.

How do you set up your California Estate Plan? You have many choices.

1. DIY Estate Plans

There are many choices for DIY estate planning, and lately, it seems a new company pops up every month.

  • Legal Zoom
  • Trust & Will
  • Quicken Will Maker
  • Epic Will
  • Rocket Lawyer
  • Estate Guru, formerly EP Navigator
  • Fabric
  • Cross My Heart and Hope to Die (ok, I made this one up)

Cheap But Costly

DIY estate planning companies are simply online software. They produce very inexpensive documents. And you get what you pay for.

There are many problems with DIY estate planning.

Will it really work?

  • Did you make the right choices on the online forms? Are the documents sufficient and correct for your assets and family?

  • You create an estate plan to protect your family and assets. Can you really protect your family and assets with cheap DIY online documents?

Most people need an attorney to help them with their estate planning. Estate planning is not as simple as many people think, and the risk of doing it wrong is great, and you won't know until it's too late. The DIY estate planning companies know this, and most include a disclaimer in their terms of service similar to this one from Trust & Will:

Trust & Will is not a law firm and does not provide any legal advice. As part of our Services, we offer self-help, "fill in the blank" forms. If you buy or download a form on the Site, the Terms of Service control. You understand that your purchase, download, and/or use of a form document is neither legal advice nor the practice of law. Our Services are not substitutes for the advice of an attorney and if you need legal advice for your specific matter, or if your matter is too complex to be addressed by our tools, you should consult a licensed attorney in your area. 

Our attorneys get many calls from people who have DIY estate plans. They tell us how they created their online documents and are now anxious about whether they will work.

The conversation goes like this:

DIY Estate Plan Questioner: I used [fill in the blank, LegalZoom, etc] to create my estate plan, and now I have doubts. Would you review it and amend it as needed?

Our Attorney: We’d be glad to review your documents with you, but we can’t simply amend your documents. 

DIY Estate Plan Questioner: Why can’t you just add some pages to my DIY documents to make them better?

Our Attorney: We can't simply amend or add provisions on DIY or any documents we have not written because we can’t take on the liability if the other provisions don’t work.

Also, we charge a fixed fee to create your living trust estate plan. If we have to review your old documents and update them, it would take more of our time than if we just created new documents, so we would have to charge you more. It's more cost-effective to start over.

When people with DIY estate plans realize they need an estate planning attorney to fix their DIY estate plan, they end up paying twice: once to the DIY company and again to the estate planning attorney.

Is there a place for a DIY estate plan? Yes. DIY estate plans may be okay for single people with no children, no real property and very few assets. 

If you wisely decide to skip the DIY estate plan, you will find several options when seeking an estate planning attorney.

2. Tall-Building Lawyers (TBL)

TBL’s cater mostly to rich clients and charge accordingly. 

I have a TBL friend who heads up his TBL firm’s estate planning department. He told me his firm only works with very wealthy clients because his firm’s fees are cost-prohibitive for most people.

TBL’s may be a good fit for very wealthy clients who are already using the law firm for their business or litigation needs. 

3. Small Law Firms

Small firms that do estate planning often do it as a side hustle. Their bread and butter is typically litigation, family law, bankruptcy, real estate, criminal defense, etc. Some small law firms specialize in estate planning, but even then, most focus on probate and trust litigation and less on estate planning. 

4. Solo Attorneys

Solo estate planning attorneys are often former litigators who got tired of the litigation grind or new attorneys fresh out of law school. Many try their hand at an estate planning practice and, after a few years, give it up and get back to litigation, join a law firm, or choose a new career.

Many solo estate planning attorneys who survive and maintain a practice don’t have a succession plan. And when they retire, their clients have to find a new estate planning attorney.

How We Stand Out From the Other Estate Planning Attorneys

Who You Will Work With

You will work with attorneys you will like. Our clients routinely tell that us they were surprised at how pleasant the estate planning process was and how much they enjoyed working with our attorneys.  See our Trust Pilot reviews.

You will work directly with our attorneys, not backroom staff and paralegals. The focus of our firm has always been to have our clients work directly with our attorneys.

Our Approach

We only do estate planning and trust administration, and we’ve been doing it for over 25 years, so we are good at it. We know what is important and what isn't.

We know how your living trust will play out because we have done so many trust administrations (implementing the trust when the trust owner dies). Many solo estate planners have never done a trust administration. We frequently review living trusts with ill-conceived and poorly written provisions that won’t work. We can help you design a living trust that will work.

Attorneys have a tendency to make things complicated. We make things simple. We help you focus on what matters. 

And most important, we try to treat you like we would want to be treated.

Our Fees

We use fixed fees, which means you will know the cost before we start. No mystery billing and guessing at the fee with open billable hours.

We want to be aligned with your interests, and we have always felt that billing you each time you talk to us is at cross purposes with being on your team. 

We make it free to contact us. And once you become our client, we will never charge you to email or call us for questions, and we will review your estate plan for free.

Our Process for Estate Planning and Trust Administration

Our attorneys have over 50 years of combined experience in estate planning, and we have developed a straightforward and efficient process to help you with estate planning and trust administration.

For Estate Planning:

  • No forms to fill out.
  • Simply contact us, and one of our attorneys will contact you to answer your questions and schedule a free initial meeting.
  • During the meeting, your attorney will teach you the basics of estate planning, learn about your family, get an overview of your assets, and work with you to design your living trust estate plan. This meeting generally takes one hour. We will schedule a second meeting at the conclusion of this first meeting.
  • At the second meeting, your attorney will review your estate planning documents with you to make sure the documents are correct and that you understand what each document does and how your estate plan works. Following the review, you will sign and notarize your documents. Your attorney will also explain how to transfer your probate assets to your living trust. We will transfer your real property to your living trust. This second meeting usually takes one hour.
  • You will receive your hard-copy documents, and we will email you a link so you can securely download your pdf documents.
  • We will coordinate with your financial advisor to help you transfer your accounts to your living trust and advise you and your advisor on how to name your beneficiaries on your retirement plans and life insurance policies.
  • Now that you are a client, you can contact your attorney whenever you have a question for free. 

For Trust Administration:

When a loved one dies with a living trust, the successor trustee typically hires an attorney to guide them through the trust administration. Trust administration is a big part of our practice, and we make it very straightforward.

Trust administration is not nearly as complicated or expensive as probate, but there is a lot of work to do, and the successor trustee can get into trouble if he doesn’t know what he is doing.

Just like we do with our living trust estate planning, we charge a fixed fee for trust administration. Our attorney fee should be paid out of the trust estate.

Our goal is to do what is necessary, to keep it simple, and to not use legalese and drag you into extraneous work that doesn't advance the process. The objective is to follow the rules, gather the assets, pay off the bills, and distribute the assets to the trust beneficiaries as efficiently as possible. We don’t like legal mumbo jumbo and needless delays.

Virtual - Work With Us From the Convenience of Your Home

We understand you are busy, and it is not always easy to schedule meetings in one of our offices. 

You can work with us virtually from the convenience of your home. Many of our clients work with us exclusively from their homes, with Zoom, phone calls, and emails. We can even notarize your documents virtually with our remote online notary.

We're Here to Help

We've been doing California estate planning for over 25 years. This is not our side hustle. Estate planning and trust administration are all we do. We work with California clients virtually from the convenience of their home throughout the state and in person in our Sacramento area offices in El Dorado Hills and Roseville, and in Camarillo and San Diego.

Contact us for more info

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