California probate, especially in Los Angeles, costs money.  Fees are payable for all kinds of things, including and certainly not limited to, filing a probate petition, filing objections, filing trust contests, and filing demurrers.  For a complete list of fees, see the 2017 fee schedule here.

In a nutshell, here is a list of items for which a fee is due (just click on the image):

 

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E-filing is now required by the Los Angeles Superior Court for almost all documents.  There are many e-filing service providers to choose from when filing your documents with the Court.  The Court’s own website has a lot of services available to help those who want to handle their own matter.  Below is a list of the types of services the Court’s website offers:

You can check on your jury duty, pay your ticket, check court records and more.  I have provided easy access only to those services the Court provides in connection with probate.

  • You can get a summary of your civil, small claims, family law and probate case. All you need is your case number.

    Access Now

    The Probate Division has implemented mandatory electronic filing (efiling) for attorneys and provided the option of efiling to self-represented litigants. Probate matters are heard at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse and the Michael D. Antonovich Antelope Valley Courthouse.

    Access Now

    You can access up to 14 days of a courtroom’s calendar to find your court date for general jurisdiction civil, limited jurisdiction civil, family law and probate calendars. In compliance with Code of Civil Procedure section 1161.2, Unlawful Detainer case information is not available to the public for the first 60 days.

    Access Now

    You can find the courthouse location where you may file your civil, family law, probate or small claims case using a zip code or city/community.

    Access Now

    You can request an interpreter for your Probate case.

    Access Now

    You can search parties of record and participants for civil, small claims, family law and probate cases to find your case number.

    Access Now

    You can find Probate Notes related to your case. All you need is your case number.

     

     

    Below is a list of the Los Angeles Superior Court Divisions

    The Appellate Division of the Los Angeles Superior Court reviews the trial court decisions, and all evidence presented in the trial court. The types of cases reviewed are: Infraction, Misdemeanor, Limited Civil, Small Claims Post Judgment Enforcement Orders, and Writs relating to the above types of cases.

    Access Now

    The Civil Court provides a system for private parties to resolve disputes. In civil cases, the plaintiff files a case against the defendant. The jurisdiction of a court is the authority to handle a case and is determined by the amount of the dispute.

    Access Now

    The criminal courts hear cases where the State has filed charges against one or more persons alleged to have committed criminal offenses. Criminal offenses fall into one of three categories: Infractions, Misdemeanors, or Felonies.

    Access Now

    Family Law cases can involve a number of issues such as: Child Custody, Child Support, Divorce, Domestic Violence, Legal Separation, Nullity (Annulment), Parentage (Paternity) and Spousal or Domestic Partner Support. The Family Law Division also hears Elder Abuse, Civil Harassment and Gun Violence Restraining Order requests.

    Access Now

    The Juvenile Division of the Los Angeles Superior Court deals with cases that involve children under 18 years old. The two types of courts within the Juvenile Division are Dependency Court and Delinquency Court.

    Access Now

    The Mental Health Court of the Los Angeles Superior Court provides a wide variety of services to the mentally ill. Los Angeles County is the only county in California using a centralized court for cases involving mental disorders and mental health legal issues.

    Access Now

    Probate Court is a Court of General Jurisdiction that includes, but is not limited to the following proceedings: Decedents’ estates, Trust proceedings, Guardianship proceedings, Conservatorship proceedings, and Minor’s compromises.

    Access Now

    Small Claims Court handles Civil cases asking for $10,000.00 or less. It is a special court where disputes are resolved quickly and inexpensively. Rules are simplified and the hearing is informal. There are no lawyers, no rules of evidence, and no juries. You don’t need to be a United States citizen to file or defend a case in Small Claims Court.

    Access Now

    Traffic Court handles cases that usually begin when a citation or ticket is written by a law enforcement officer. Tickets can be issued for violations of traffic laws and other non-traffic offenses.

Vesting Title in Real Estate

For investment property, perhaps one of the better ways of owning real property is in a limited liability company (LLC) created either in California or in another state with great asset protection laws and regulations.  The LLC should in turn be owned by your living trust.

For non-investment property, using an LLC may also be appropriate depending on the circumstances.  For example, if you are divorced or single, keeping title in your own name may be too risky and using an LLC instead may be more risk-averse.

Digital asset is defined as “an electronic record in which an individual has a right or interest. The term ‘digital asset’ does not include an underlying asset or liability, unless the asset or liability is itself an electronic record.” California Probate Code Section 871(h).  “Electronic” and “record” are also separately defined.

The State of California enacted a version of the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act which adds Part 20 (beginning with Section 870) to the Probate Code. It applies only where electronic information is being requested from a custodian by a decedent’s representative for the purpose of ascertaining the decedent’s assets and liabilities in managing an estate.  This does not cover conservatorships, trusts and powers of attorney where the conservatee, trustor, or principal is still alive.  It excludes coverage of an employer’s digital assets used by an employee in the ordinary course of the employer’s business. Thus for example a decedent’s estate may not request under the Act the e-mails of a company where the decedent had worked.

California Probate Code Section 870-884 can be generally summarized as addressing the following topics:

My client’s father died after being killed at a convenience store where he worked.  He didn’t leave a Will but my client was his only child so the Los Angeles Court appointed him as administrator of his father’s estate.  My client had heard his father tell him repeatedly that he owned over a million dollars of property (despite his relatively small salary).  Since the administrator was still a student at a local university and had practically no means of self-support, he needed to find that property and ask the Court to permit the distribution of it all to him.  The only problem in administering the estate was that access to the information leading to the discovery of the million dollars of property was locked in his father’s Google gmail account.  Google refused to allow my client access despite having a Court Order and Letters of Administration granting him full authority over his father’s property.  Instead, Google wanted the Court to sign this Order:

SUPERIOR COURT OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA

COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES

 

[PROPOSED] ORDER TO PRODUCE CONTENTS OF DECEDENT’S GMAIL ACCOUNT

Dept.:

Judge:

 

Having considered all of the evidence and relevant legal authorities, the Court finds as follows:

  1. Google Inc. (“Google”) provides a free email service, called Gmail.
  2. ____________ (“Decedent”) is deceased.
  3. ____________ (“Administrator or Administratrix”), is the lawful administrator or administratrix of Decedent’s estate under California law.
  4. Decedent is the sole account holder of the Gmail account ___________ (“Account”).
  5. In his/her lawful capacity established under Paragraph 3, Administrator or Administratrix has a legal right to obtain the content of communications stored in Decedent’s Account.
  6. Under the circumstances of this case, and in light of this Order, no law, legal duty, or obligation, including, but not limited to, any provision of California law or the federal Stored Communications Act, 18 U.S.C. §§ 2701, et seq., prohibits Google from disclosing to Administratrix the communications stored in Decedent’s Account.

IT IS HEREBY ORDERED:

  1. Within ten (10) business days of the entry of this Order, Administrator or Administratrix shall cause an email message to be sent to Google at postmortemrequests@google.com. That email message shall attach an electronic copy of this Order as entered by the Court and shall state as follows:

I, _________, obtained the attached court order directing Google Inc. to produce to me the content of any reasonably accessible Gmail communications stored in the Gmail account [Insert Decedent’s Gmail Address] and dated between [date] and [date].

  1. The Consent Email shall further state that the Administrator or Administratrix consents to Google delivering the content to [Recipient’s name and Address]
  2. Within ten (10) business days of receiving the email message described in Paragraph 7, Google shall disclose to Administrator or Administratrix the communications specified in Paragraph 7. Google shall disclose those communications by sending them to Administrator or Administratrix, in an electronic format of Google’s choosing, at the email address that Administrator or Administratrix uses to send the email message described in Paragraph 7.
  3. Google shall have no obligations to disclose any communications under this Order until the Order is entered by this Court and until Google receives the email message described in Paragraph 7.
  4. This Order resolves any request, legal process, motions, or court orders currently directed to or against Google in this matter. Any such requests, legal process, motions, or court orders are hereby DENIED, QUASHED, OR VACATED as moot.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

E-filing is now required by many of the courts in California; e-filing is required by the court in Los Angeles.  My probate clients are currently able to sign almost all of their documents electronically.  One of the most prominent exceptions to this new rule is that Letters Testamentary or Letters of Administration must have an original signature.  The California Rules of Court for 2018 lay out when e-signatures are accepted.

Rule 2.257. Requirements for signatures on documents

(a) Documents signed under penalty of perjury

Naming the person in your living trust and will to carry out your wishes can be challenging sometimes.  What follows are California guidelines to help make choices so that if the people you have in mind can perform each of these duties and responsibilities then you can be confident you’ve made the right decision.  As your fiduciary, the trustee and executor must be able to comply with these various duties when exercising their powers:

  1. Duty of Loyalty to the Trust and Beneficiaries
  2. Duty of Confidentiality regarding Trust Affairs

Some probate cases that I work on in the Los Angeles Superior Court are best resolved by a professional mediator than by a sitting judge.  Often the mediator is in fact a former sitting judge who has retired from the bench in order to help people address their differences and come to a resolution.

One case I worked on was ripe for mediation.  I was retained by one of the decedent’s children who was born in the 1970s to a woman the decedent had not married.  One of the women the decedent had married and with whom he had two sons filed for divorce in the early 1960s. As part of the divorce, the wife obtained a court-ordered judgment for child support for both sons.  The decedent had never appeared in court during the divorce proceedings and left it entirely up to the wife to finish it.  He then disappeared from the wife’s and his sons’ lives.  The wife, however, never finished the divorce and never obtained a court-ordered judgment decree finalizing her divorce.

About 50 years later, the decedent met another woman and they married each other.  Shortly after their marriage, he died without a will.  At the time of his marriage, he owned his home in Los Angeles free-and-clear.  They did not have any children between them.

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.