Why should I not hire the cheapest probate attorney?

Ok, maybe nobody uses the exact words “Why should I not hire the cheapest probate attorney?”  However, I think it’s human nature to try to save a few bucks.  I like to get a deal just like the next guy.  On the other hand I know when I get what I pay for.

I am always up front with my clients that the California probate attorneys fees that are laid out in the California probate code are a cap. I want my clients to be fully informed. I don’t want there to be secrets between us. It’s a CAP but for myself, and I would most experienced probate attorneys, it’s what we charge.  There are many reasons for this but most notably the probate code includes the attorney fees to protect the public and laydown a set fee that everybody should charge. I lose money on some smaller cases and I come out ahead on some bigger cases. However, on average it’s fair compensation.

I know of several attorneys who won’t get involved with probates below one million dollars ($1,000,000) as they feel it’s not worth their time. I do not subscribe to that theory and, in fact, the majority of my cases are below $1,000,000.  I deal with $300k, $400k, etc… cases all the time.  Yes, we also get cases that are worth multi-millions but I would say the majority of probate cases are below $1,000,000. By my taking these cases I am able to get have a very active practice which gives me good experience in all probate courts in California.

Back to the question though… why not save a few bucks on attorney fees?

I have been doing this for 25 years and done over 1,500 probate estates in probate court. I have seen countless errors made by paralegals, pro pers (people working with no attorney – DIYer), rookie attorneys and general practitioners (attorneys who dabble in probate and a bunch of other areas of law).

My hunch is that most people going through the probate process, after losing a loved one, just want to get the probate process done!   I like to think I am amongst the best at efficiently moving my client’s cases through the probate processes. I still have cases that end in 7-8 months so don’t believe people when they tell you it takes over a year… because it doesn’t have to!

Having a highly experienced probate attorney representing you helps your case end sooner and that’s what most everybody wants.  I plan ahead so I am ready as the case moves through the court. I liken it to a high hurdle race.  I know what hurdles are coming and when they are coming. That way I can gracefully jump over the hurdles as they arrive.  Imagine the inexperienced athlete trying to run the high hurdle race and it’s not so graceful, is it?  Hire a probate attorney who is more like a track athlete not a rookie!

So, back to my track analogy, what does it look like if a rookie attorney or paralegal service or pro per crash into a high hurdle?  In probate court a missed hurdle, or crashed hurdle, typically results in a delay of 4-12 week though I have seen longer a couple of times… and in today’s COVID-19 world I would think delays will be longer.  You want an experienced attorney who glides over the hurdles so you don’t have long delays in your probate case.

What else could go wrong if you have a rookie handling your probate?  I could make a laundry list of things I have seen or heard about over the years. Improper beneficiaries, missed tax payments, missed creditors, angered Judges, angered family members, and the list goes on. The problem for YOU is that most errors in probate fall on the Administrator or Executor (the Personal Representative). So if your rookie attorney fails to properly notify a creditor or fails to handle a payment right, and the estate comes up short, YOU PAY FOR THE ERROR PERSONALLY! Most people don’t like the sound of that.

I could go on but hopefully by now you get the point. If not, and if you still think it’s a good idea to try this yourself, to hire a rookie attorney, to hire an inexperienced attorney, to hire a paralegal service or to hire a general practice attorney then all I can really say is good luck to you!

If you do not hire me to handle your probate and it doesn’t go well please contact me later to clean up the mess. You don’t even have to say I warned you beforehand. Just contact me as I clean up probate messes all the time and get them completed!

-John Palley


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