FAQ: Estate Planning in Alameda and Contra Costa County

FAQ: Estate Planning in Contra Costa and Alameda County

Estate Planning Lawyer Contra Costa County

An Estate Plan may have been on your "to do" list for some time. You are not alone. Most of the couples I talk to in the San Francisco East Bay area have not yet done their estate plan. It's one of those things that just keeps getting pushed off to a time when you feel more relaxed, or have less on your plate. The good news is that it's actually pretty easy to start the process - and it probably won't take nearly as long as you think to complete it. So, jump in! Make an appointment, and get it done. Here's some questions you may have in the meantime:

PART 1: How an Estate Plan saves you Money

What is included in an Estate Plan?

An Estate Plan is a set of legal documents that typically includes a Will, Power of Attorney, Advance Health Care Directive, and Revocable Living Trust. Larger estates may include sub trusts, life insurance trusts, or other instruments to reduce estate taxes and distribute assets as smoothly as possible. Your attorney can advise you on this.

An Complete Estate Plan will:

  • Provide a complete plan for how and when your estate will be distributed to your beneficiaries
  • Name a guardian for the care of minor children
  • Name someone to administer your estate when you pass
  • Name someone to make financial/medical decisions for you if you become incapacitated
  • Reduce or avoid taxes associated with the estate

How can an Estate Plan save money?

  1. There are a host of ways that having well drafted estate planning documents will save you and your family money as you age, or when you pass. The first is touched on below, and often cited by attorneys as a reason to do your estate plan - "Probate."Generally the cost of a probate is higher, and the process much longer, as the court must oversee the distribution of your assets. See below for specific costs of Probating an estate in California.
  2. This is not the only way having an attorney complete your estate plan can benefit you, however. An experienced Elder Law or Estate Planning lawyer can ensure that your will and trust meet all of the legal requirements for validity. The probate court (the courts which handles estate law) can and is very discerning when it comes to the language and content of wills and trusts. If there are any mistakes or oversights, the documents can potentially be declared invalid.
  3. An attorney will also keep copies of your documents on file, should anything happen to your copies. While this may not seem likely, I have seen many instances in which wills are in questions due to forgery, and estate planning documents are misplaced or tossed out by accident. 
  4. An experienced Elder Law attorney can also help you guard against future litigation in regards to your estate. A huge percentage of estate litigation cases are predicated upon errors, lack of specificity, or missing information in regards to the intention of the testator (person who owned the assets and has died). While avoiding litigation is never guaranteed, an airtight estate plan provides significant protection against it. 
  5. A valid Power of Attorney document avoids conservatorship. A large portion of my elder law practice in Contra Costa County is devoted to helping family members establish conservatorships over parents or loved ones. A conservatorship gives one many of the same powers as a power of attorney, but must be done through the court. They become necessary when someone no longer has the mental capacity to sign a Power of Attorney, or there is a problem with their Power of Attorney (such as a coerced signature). In the SF East Bay, the majority of conservatorships I have established are for elderly persons with Alzheimer's or dementia. Unfortunately this is a medical condition which is strikingly common. The cost of a conservatorship in Contra Costa or Alameda county is typically upwards of $4000. Conservatorship matters of more complicated estates can be ongoing and much more expensive. They are typically paid for using the funds of the person being conserved. 
  6. The Healthcare Directive, also included in an Estate Plan,  is another document that can potentially avoid costs. A healthcare directive allows you to specify your wishes for end of life, should you be incapable of stating them at that time. Extraneous hospital bills or long term care costs can potentially be avoided. 

What is the cost of Probate?

Probate Costs in California will typically include a filing fee of $435-$465 + closing. $200-300. In addition, the executor of the estate is entitled to statutory fees based on the value of the estate. If an attorney is hired, the attorney will also receive statutory fees under California law. This is the base fee. Should there be any "extraordinary" fees, attorneys will also receive an hourly rate. In Contra Costa County, this is $325/hr. Extraordinary fees include work such as resolving disputes between family members, among other things. The fee structure for both the executor and the attorney (individually) is:

  • 4% of the first $100,000
  • 3% of the next $100,000
  • 2% of the next $800,000
  • 1% of the next $9 million
  • .5% of the next $15 million

The percentages refer to the total of the probated estate (any assets or funds that are not in a trust). To estimate the cost of probate, add up the value of all your assets and then calculate the amounts that go to the executor and attorney, add in court fees and additional attorney fees, and you have the total estimated cost of a probate. 

Part 2 of our Estate Planning FAQ will address the specifics of a Trust vs. a Will, and what you'll need to get started with your estate plan. I'll also provide details on when you need to update your estate plan. 

If you have any questions regarding your estate plan, I offer a free consultation from my Elder Law and Estate Planning office in Walnut Creek. I frequently work with clients from Lamorinda, Danville, Concord, Pleasant Hill, San Ramon, Martinez, and the surrounding areas of the San Francisco East Bay. Call 925-322-1763 to schedule your appointment.