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Choosing a California Trust and Estate Attorney - Werner Law

Choosing a California Trust and Estate Attorney That's Right For You

Troy Werner and his family

Written by Troy Werner

Troy Werner has been an indispensable asset to The Werner Law Firm since joining in 2009, providing exceptional legal service to its clients.

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POSTED ON: June 20, 2023

Only about a third of US adults have an estate plan of any kind. The other two-thirds will have to distribute their lifetime earnings and assets as per state law – and according to each state’s individual succession rules. However, perhaps more importantly, the majority of US adults have not communicated their end-of-life wishes with […]

Only about a third of US adults have an estate plan of any kind. The other two-thirds will have to distribute their lifetime earnings and assets as per state law – and according to each state’s individual succession rules. However, perhaps more importantly, the majority of US adults have not communicated their end-of-life wishes with their loved ones. 

While we all sincerely hope to live many happy years with those dearest to us and be able to go out on our own terms, it is important time and time again to be prepared for life’s curveballs. Estate planning is not just about preserving the family fortune – it’s about being clear about your wishes and putting them into writing in such a way that they are not just respected but made real. 

Trust is a big part of this process, in more ways than one. Finding the right California trust and estate attorney is as much about finding someone qualified and experienced enough to meet your needs and expectations, as it is about finding someone you can work with for long periods of time. Estate plans are often drafted then forgotten for a decade or two – but the reality is that nearly all estate planning professionals recommend reviewing an estate plan at least once every five years, or after every major life or family event (such as a death or birth in the family, a marriage, or a divorce). 

Learning more about estate planning and the way estate planning tools like trusts and living wills can make your life and your family’s life much easier is important for selecting the right professional to work with you. A grasp on estate law and estate planning basics will give you the background you need to make a better, more informed decision. 

What is Estate Planning?

Estate planning encapsulates the process of preparing for the management and distribution of your estate – that is, the assets and belongings you leave behind after death. However, estate planning also includes the official documentation and proper execution of your end-of-life wishes, as well as the instatement of qualified agents to act in your stead, both during any incapacity, and to execute your will in probate court after death. 

In addition to the classic last will and testament, an estate plan may additionally entail:

Without an estate plan, your estate is subject to local laws of succession, and has no protection from any potential estate taxes. Your assets are distributed not according to your wishes, but according to the state-specific definition of the next-of-kin – even if you’ve been estranged for years. 

Qualities to Look for in a Trust and Estate Attorney

Working with an estate planning professional often means finding someone who is not just well-versed in trust and probate law, but in finances, tax law, and the practical application, management, and safekeeping of estate planning documents as well. You will want to keep an eye out for:

  • Experience and expertise in matters of family law and probate law, especially state-specific laws. 
  • A communication-style that suits yours; meaning you are happy with the degree to which you are staying in contact with your legal representative and are having all your questions answered. 
  • A strong local reputation for circumstances and cases that are similar to yours. 
  • Transparency about how and what they would recommend for your estate plan, including perhaps looking for ways to keep your plan efficient. 

Researching and Shortlisting the Right Attorneys

The internet is a great place, and it continues to be an excellent way to source online goods and services – especially locally. But word of mouth is important as well. If you’re looking for an estate planning professional in your area, ask other relatives or co-workers who might have recently had to work with someone experienced in family law, California probate law, or estate planning. 

In addition to word-of-mouth, it helps to expand your online search to look for client testimonials and online reviews. 

However, nothing can substitute for an in-person consultation. An initial consultation will give you the most important information about your potential attorney’s qualities, especially with regard to your circumstances. 

Questions to Ask During the Initial Consultation

The first and most classic question is to ask about your prospective attorney’s experiences with cases such as yours. They might not be able to divulge any details, but they should be able to describe with legal vagueness how they might have helped other clients resolve their specific issues or address complicated family relations, or complex assets in a large estate through a comprehensive estate plan. 

Fee structure is important to discuss upfront, as well. In California, there are limits to what an attorney can charge while representing a case in probate court – but attorneys are free to charge what they see fit for individual services and documents, such as trust agreements, legal wills, and advance directives. Most firms will sell these documents in a client-specific bundle, based on a client’s needs. 

Finally, ask about availability and access. Who will you be talking to primarily at the firm? It is one thing to meet with an attorney for an initial consultation, but who will be doing the majority of the legal legwork, and who will you consult with when asking future questions? 

Making a Decision

After taking all the factors into consideration, it will often come down to personal comfort and rapport. Compatibility is important, especially with regards to communication – as is trust. Insist on working with someone you feel comfortable talking to. 

An estate plan is very personal, and there are often elements to an estate plan that are not purely financial. It is, after all, about securing a legacy for your loved ones, and making sure that whatever you leave behind finds its way into the right hands.

Choosing a California Trust and Estate Attorney That's Right For You  - Werner Law

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Founded in 1975 by L. Rob Werner and serving California for over 48 years, our dedicated attorneys are available for clients, friends, and family members to receive the legal help they need and deserve. You can trust in our experience and reputation to help navigate you through your unique legal matters.

Whether you need help creating a living trust or navigating probate, our living trust law firm's compassionate team of estate planning lawyers and probate lawyers are here to help you and ready to answer your questions.

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