I charge a fixed fee for the estate plan which will vary somewhat depending on whether you are married or single, the type of trust you want and the complexity of the distribution clauses. I give a free consultation to determine your goals and wishes and by the end of the consultation can usually tell you what the fee will be. I ask for ½ of the fee prior to my preparing the drafts and the balance is due at our final meeting when we sign everything.
Usually I just need to have a general idea of your assets and a ballpark estimate of their value. If you decide you wish to proceed I will give you my questionnaire to fill out which requests information about your family as well as more detailed asset information. That’s it. Everything else I need to know in order to prepare your documents, I will learn from our discussions.
Occasionally I can get all the information I need to prepare the plan at our first meeting. Usually however, because I’ve asked a lot of questions and given you a lot of ideas to consider, most clients will schedule a second meeting. At the end of the second meeting, I am ready to prepare the drafts of the living trust, etc. I send the drafts out for your review within two weeks. After you’ve taken as much time as you need to review the drafts, we can meet again to review them, discuss your questions or concerns, and make any necessary changes. Sometimes we can do this second meeting over the phone – It’s completely up to you. The beauty of having a fixed fee is that you can use as much of my as you need to make certain you understand everything and that the documents set forth your wishes. Once you approve the drafts, we meet one last time to sign everything and you’re done!
At a minimum, you will probably want a Living Trust, Pour-Over Will (Last Will and Testament), Health Care Directive, Power of Attorney, Spousal Agreement, General Assignment of Assets, and a deed transferring your home into the trust. The fee I quote you at our initial consultation does not include subsequent changes requested after your plan is finished and all the documents are signed. For example, if you decide later on to change your successor trustee and need an amendment to the trust, this is not included. Depending on the changes needed, I will either charge my hourly rate or quote you a fixed fee at that time.
Because there is no way to estimate how much attorney time will be needed, I charge an hourly rate and generally request a 10 to 12 hour retainer up front. In addition to my attorneys fees, you will need to pay the $435 court filing fee for your Petition and in cases where a Response is filed, another $435 filing fee is required for the Response.
How long it takes until you are divorced depends on how quickly you and your spouse come to an agreement. Usually we can have the final terms of the settlement after two to four divorce mediation sessions. In cases where there are more complex issues, more sessions may be required. In simple cases where there are few assets or where the parties already have an agreement in mind, we can often get it done in one session. Keep in mind that California has a “cooling off’ period which requires six months (beginning when the Petition is served on the Respondent) before the court will finalize the divorce. If we get your agreement (the ‘Stipulated Judgment’) finished prior, we can submit it to the court who will then process and stamp it to be effective at the applicable future date.
No. As long as the two of you can decide the terms of your agreement, then you do not need to go before the judge to decide for you. When we submit your agreement to the court we will include other forms signed by you which allow the court to terminate the marriage without either of you having to make a personal appearance.
That is for you to decide. Because I am a family law attorney, I know the law and can answer any complex legal questions you will likely have throughout the divorce process. In fact, we will spend much of our time in mediation discussing the law and how it applies to your case. I believe it’s important to do this so that any agreements and decisions the two of you make are completely understood. Most of my clients choose not to consult with an attorney during the process. They are comfortable with my explanations, their understanding of the law, and what their rights are (and usually they wish to save the money). Some clients like to have his or her own attorney to consult with during the process. Some clients will not involve attorneys in the process but will consult with one in the end to review the final agreement before he/she signs it.