Contingency fee arrangements in probate are rare for me.  Typically, attorney’s fees are paid in one of two ways: either statutory fees or extraordinary fees.  Contingency fee arrangements may come up when statutory fees or extraordinary fees may not apply to a situation.

Recently, a new client told me that he was the heir of a California estate of a person who died without a will (intestate).  As my new client was about to receive his distribution from the probate estate, another person made a claim stating that he instead was the sole heir.  That claimant filed an objection to the proposed distribution arguing that he had a higher priority to claim the entire estate under the rules of intestate succession than my client had.  He argued that since my client was adopted when he was a child, he was no longer related to the decedent and therefore lost his priority as an heir.  My client argued that although he was adopted, his relationship with the decedent was not severed because he was the decedent’s sibling and the rules of adoption sever a relationship only as between a parent and a child.

In a situation like this where the California probate attorney is not handling the actual probate and is instead representing an heir, beneficiary or creditor, a contingency fee arrangement may work.

Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review Ratings recently came out with it’s rating of me. The Ratings are an objective indicator of a lawyer’s high ethical standards and professional ability. Attorneys receive a Peer Review Ratings based on evaluations by other members of the bar and the judiciary in the United States. I have been honored with an “AV Preeminent” rating which is a significant rating accomplishment- a testament to the fact that a lawyer’s peers rank him or her at the highest level of professional excellence. My piers gave me a rating of 5 out of 5 in all possible areas analyzed: Legal Knowledge, Analytical Capabilities, Judgment, Communication Ability, Legal Experience. I’m pleased and honored.

On November 9, 2012 the Joint Committee on Taxation released a report which, among other issues, examines the potential impact to the Treasury from potential changes to the estate tax, including the Obama administration’s proposals. Importantly, if the 2012 estate tax regime is extended into 2013, the Joint Committee estimates that there will be 3,600 taxable estates. Under the Obama administration’s proposed 45-percent estate tax and $3.5-million exemption, the number of taxable estates in 2013 is estimated to be 7,200. If the estate tax regime in 2013 reverts back to the 2002 regime (as it is currently scheduled to do), the number of taxable estates is estimated to be 55,200.

2012 provides a unique opportunity for making gifts using the federal estate, gift and generation skipping transfer (“GST”) tax exemption of $5,120,000 (reduced by any prior use of such exemption).

Unless Congress takes action, the exemption decreases to $1 Million on January 1, 2013 and there is a possibility that those who miss the opportunity will have lost the ability to make significant tax free gifts.

· Based upon the existing estate and gift tax rate of 35%, the additional taxes from not taking advantage of the gift exemption of $5.12 Million that could expire on January 1, 2013 as compared to the $1 Million gift tax exemption that is scheduled to be effective on January 1, 2013 could be over $1.4 Million.

A conservatorship in California is a court case where a judge appoints a responsible person or organization (called the “conservator”) to care for another adult (called the “conservatee”) who cannot care for himself or herself or manage his or her own finances.

Types of Conservatorships

There are various types of conservatorships depending on the needs of the conservatee:

Are you married?

Estates of married individuals dying after 2010 must file an estate tax return to pass along their unused estate & gift tax exclusion amount to their surviving spouse.

Available for the first time this year, the new portability election allows estates of married taxpayers to pass along the unused part of their exclusion amount, normally $5 million in 2011, to their surviving spouse. Enacted in December, 2010, this provision eliminates the need for spouses to retitle property and create trusts solely to take full advantage of each spouse’s exclusion amount.

Last month I blogged about “Intentional Interference With Expected Inheritance“.

A new article written by two Harvard Law School professors is about to come out entitled “Torts and Estates: Remedying Wrongful Interference with Inheritance” which takes the opposite view.

Here is the abstract of their paper which is forthcoming in the Stanford Law Review:

A study conducted by Consumer Reports magazine concluded that consulting a lawyer is important, especially in more complex situations, when it comes to choosing between wills prepared by on-line services or documents drafted by lay persons. “Unless your needs are simple–say you want to leave your entire estate to your spouse–none of the will-writing products is likely to entirely meet your needs.”

Consumer Reports evaluated three services commonly used to prepare legal documents including estate plans consisting of living trusts, wills, durable powers of attorney and advance health care directives. Those three services were LegalZoom, Nolo, and Rocket Lawyer.

The outcome of the study found that in some cases, documents programmed by the software of these three companies aren’t specific enough or contain language that could lead to an unintended result.

A new tort in California law.

Forbes online reports California joins majority of states in recognizing tort — Intentional Interference With Expected Inheritance. Here’s what the article says:

In Beckwith v. Dahl (May 3, 2012), the California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, joined the majority of states in recognizing the tort of intentional interference with expected inheritance (IIEI).