FAQ #1: How much does an estate plan cost?

Frequently Asked Question:

How much will an Estate Plan cost?

Answer: That depends on what you need. I don’t hide my fees…you can find them under the “services” tab on my Facebook page, or under my “fees” page on this website. A full estate plan in California should typically cost you anywhere between $2500-$3500+ to be completed by an attorney. Of course, this fee isn’t just for the printed words on paper. This fee should include access to your attorney for all your questions, a productive initial meeting where not only is important information gathered, but also your attorney gets to know you and your family situation, AND you should leave this meeting feeling confident with your choices and moving forward. You should leave knowing there will be no hidden fees or surprises later. Your situation might be a little different than most and it may cost you slightly less or slightly more. No matter what it costs you, it will be far less than the average cost of probate for your family later. You could be saving your family thousands of dollars and years spent in court by planning ahead.

If you fail to plan and your estate ends up in probate, the current minimum attorney and executor/administrator fee is $6535…each. Add to that the costs of the court? It can easily add up to well over $14,000.00.

9 Steps to Take to Administer a Trust

As a new trustee, you probably have a lot of questions about what to do first. Below are 9 steps to take in administering the trust you are now responsible for.

If the trust was set up with your spouse or registered domestic partner, when the first person passes, usually all that is required is to file an “Affidavit of Death of Trustee” with every county in which property is held. The reason you do this is to put the world on notice that a prior signer of a deed has passed away and can no longer sign for themselves. If the remaining spouse wishes to sell the home or a property, they can now sign by themselves. The explanation for why the other person can’t sign is in the “Affidavit of Death of Trustee.”

When the Original Settlors/Trustees Pass Away

If you are the new trustee of a revocable living trust, there are many things that you may have to do in order to carry out trust administration properly. (SETTLORS= the people who “set up” the trust. When that person has passed, or when both people have passed, the SUCCESSOR TRUSTEE steps into their shoes to follow their instructions and manage their assets.)

1.)       Know that the trust is now irrevocable. This means you cannot change the terms of the trust. At all. (Unless you petition the court. And now you are in court…the very thing the original trustees wanted to avoid. Sometimes you can’t help it, especially if the trust was a bad one to start with. Just know you can’t go into the trust and decide to change beneficiaries or shares they receive on your own.)

Having said that, you need to read the trust. If there is something you do not understand, it would be wise to consult with an attorney. You do NOT have to consult with the same attorney who drafted the trust. If they send you a letter telling them that you do…they aren’t being honest. Of course, you CAN use the same attorney, especially if you like them and trust them.

2.)       Send California Probate Code 16061.7 NOTICE to all heirs at law and everybody named in the trust.

3.)       You will need to lodge the will with the probate court. This is not a difficult process. A proper estate plan will have a “pour over” will. Take it to the court and lodge it.

4.)        Gather asset information and prepare an inventory.

5.)        You will need to get a EIN/TIN from the IRS. You can do this online. Now that the original trustees have passed, the trust needs a government ID number. This number will allow you to open a bank account for the trust…and if there is already a trust bank account, the bank will want this new number.

6.)       Related to above: you will have to file a 1041 Federal Tax return. This is the income tax return for the estate…if the estate makes $600 or more, you must file this return.  IRS INFO HERE 

The estate tax threshold is fairly high, and only those estates worth $5.49million+ for each individual will need to pay. (You still need to file even if you don’t owe. Talk to your favorite CPA about this. This is separate from “income” taxes.)

7.)        Also related to #5: open up a trust bank account. This is where cash and proceeds need to go. This makes it easy to account to the beneficiaries (via bank statements), make deposits, and also make distributions.

 8.)       Deal with creditors: gather creditor information and prepare a list for notice. Open probate Court file to accept creditor claims. Publish in local newspaper to notify potential creditors. Send notice to potential creditors including Medi-Cal (the Department of Health Services).

9.) File an “Affidavit of Death of Trustee” with every county that the Settlor owned property. This puts everyone on notice that that person can no longer sign future deeds. A Change of Ownership report also needs to be filed with your county assessor’s office. SAMPLE AFFIDAVIT OF DEATH HERE

Is there anything else?

Although there are numerous steps in administering a trust, it is far easier and more cost efficient than having to go through the probate process. Your particular situation might require more steps than the introductory ones listed above. If you are unsure about your situation, please call an attorney who regularly works in trust administration to guide you through the process.

A well prepared estate plan will help the successor trustee in their duties as they take over the trust. If you are a new trustee, you may want to consult an attorney on the right path to take for your situation. If you are looking for an estate planning attorney, find one that will keep your loved ones in mind as the end result of the process. After all, your trust is meant to help your family, not make things more complicated in a time of grief.

Medi-Cal Estate Planning

Medi-Cal Estate Planning

For the last 20+ years, California has attempted to recover some of the fees it has paid out on your behalf if you are a recipient of Medi-Cal services. (Medi-Cal is California’s version of Medicare/Medicaid.) While personal opinions may differ on the validity of this recovery, the fact of the matter is, Medi-Cal recovery after your death had the potential to wipe out your estate and your children’s ability to inherit your assets.

One way around this was to put your home into an irrevocable trust. Putting anything into an irrevocable trust means it is not really yours any longer. Many people created “Medi-Cal Asset Protection Trusts,” a type of irrevocable trust. You would name a trust protector, and typically you were able to still live in the house until your death. After your passing, it would be given to your named beneficiary, but it would be untouchable my Medi-Cal because you no longer had control over it. This type of trust was expensive to form and maintain, and a person had to be confident that they would never need to sell their home, since they were relinquishing incidents of ownership to it.


The good news is that the State of California enacted a few laws that took effect on January 01, 2017. These laws (found in SB 33 and SB 833) apply to anyone who has died or will die on or after January 01, 2017, and it limits what recovery can take place by the state against your assets. (If you have a family member or friend who passed before this date, the old rules of recovery still apply.)

Essentially, the state can recover for certain services it provides against your probate estate only.

Having a revocable living trust keeps your assets out of your probate estate…so you have shielded your assets from the state once again, preserving as much as possible for your heirs. This recovery limitation also applies to those properties that have been named in a Transfer on Death Deed, or held in joint tenancy.

This is great news for everyone who has already planned ahead! There is no need to form a special trust in the future, giving up control of your property when you may have never needed it in the first place.

Remember, a revocable living trust (with all the accompanying documents) is your map to asset protection planning. If your future changes and you need to add to, change, or in any other way alter your trust, you are free to do that. You keep control of your assets during your life, but trust becomes irrevocable on your death so that your trustee or beneficiaries can’t change your plans. It is the best gift you can give your family.


If you would like to read more about this on your own, I have found a consumer friendly PDF guide on this topic, located HERE.