Certification means that a lawyer referral service meets certain standards approved by the California Supreme Court. Because the State Bar enforces those standards, if you have a problem with a lawyer referral service, the State Bar can provide you with a complaint form and look into your complaint. Certification also means that if you use one of the certified services, you can be assured of the following:

• Attorneys are insured. All lawyers who participate in certified lawyer referral services must carry malpractice insurance to protect their clients. This means that if your lawyer does something wrong, and you successfully sue for malpractice, you can be sure the lawyer has the ability to pay.

• The lawyer referral service will screen your call. Every certified lawyer referral service has trained staff to help you determine whether you have a legal problem and, if so, what kind of lawyer you need — or if you need some other type of assistance.

• The lawyer referral service can refer you to a lawyer in your area of legal need. Certified lawyer referral services have lawyers with experience in many legal areas, such as family law, personal injury, probate and landlord-tenant law. Certified lawyer referral services screen their lawyers so they can refer you to a lawyer who practices in the particular area of law you need. Many lawyer referral services have subject matter panels, on which attorneys can serve only if they have demonstrated experience or meet certain other requirements.

 The lawyer referral service can give you information about other service programs. Some problems may at first seem to require a lawyer’s help, but actually may not. For example, you may have a problem that can be handled for free by a rent control board, small claims court or community mediation program. Certified lawyer referral services can direct you to government agencies or other organizations that may be better suited to assist you. In fact, thousands of Californians call lawyer referral services each year and fewer than 40 percent are actually referred to lawyers.

• The lawyer referral service may be able to provide an attorney at a reduced rate. Certification rules require lawyer referral services to make arrangements to serve people of limited means. Some lawyer referral services do this by operating low-fee or no-fee panels, while others cooperate with independent, local pro bono programs that are free. If you are financially eligible, the lawyer referral service may be able to refer you to one of its own attorneys who charges a reduced rate, or to another provider who can provide you with free assistance.

• The lawyer referral service may be able to provide bilingual lawyers. Many certified lawyer referral services have lawyers who speak Spanish and other languages to help you.

 

from The California State Bar Association

Post to Twitter

1. What is the Client Security Fund?

This is a discretionary fund that can reimburse clients who have lost money or property due to theft or dishonesty by a California lawyer. It is a State Bar program funded entirely by California lawyers.

2. What losses qualify?

The fund can reimburse up to $100,000, depending on when the loss occurred. It does not reimburse a loss if the lawyer acted incompetently or failed to take a certain action. Typical losses include:

  • theft of personal injury settlement funds or other funds entrusted to the lawyer
  • failure to refund fees when the lawyer performed no services
  • borrowing money from a client without the intention or the ability to repay it
  • obtaining money or property from a client by saying it would be used for investment purposes when no investment is made.

The fund does not reimburse interest, expenses, or incidental or consequential losses caused by the attorney, such as fees paid to another attorney or damages caused by the attorney’s malpractice, negligence or incompetence. You must show that the attorney received the money or property.

3. Who can apply?

You do not have to be a United States citizen to apply. Certain applicants are excluded. If you are the spouse or close relative or the lawyer’s business partner, employer or employee, or a business controlled by the lawyer, the fund cannot reimburse you.

Also, the fund cannot reimburse for losses suffered by government entities or agencies.

4. Who decides whether an application will be paid?

The Client Security Fund Commission decides if you qualify for reimbursement and whether part or all of the application will be paid. The commission is made up of seven volunteers – four lawyers and three nonlawyers – appointed by the bar’s Board of Trustees.

For more information contact Legal Grind.

from The California State Bar Association

Post to Twitter

What is probate?

August 14th, 2015 | Posted by admin in Estate Planning | Wills - (0 Comments)

Probate is a court-supervised process for transferring a deceased person’s assets to the beneficiaries listed in his or her will. Typically, the executor named in your will would start the process after your death by filing a petition in court and seeking appointment. Your executor would then take charge of your assets, pay your debts and, after receiving court approval,distribute the rest of your estate to your beneficiaries. If you were to die intestate (that is, without a will), a relative or other interested person could start the process. In such an instance, the court would appoint an administrator to handle your estate. Personal representative is another term used to describe the administrator or executor appointed to handle an estate.

Simpler procedures are available for transferring property to a spouse or domestic partner or for handling estates in which the total assets amount to less than $150,000.

The probate process has advantages and dis-advantages. The probate court is accustomed to resolving disputes about the distribution of assets fairly quickly through a process with defined rules. In addition, the probate court reviews the personal representative’s handling of each estate, which can help protect the beneficiaries’ interests.

One disadvantage, however, is that probates are public. Your estate plan and the value of your assets will become a public record. Also, because lawyer’s fees and executor’s commissions are based on a statutory fee schedule, a probate may cost more than the management and distribution of a comparable estate under a living trust. Time can be a factor as well. A probate proceeding generally takes longer than the administration of a living trust. Discuss such advantages and disadvantages with an estate planning lawyer before making any decisions.

from The State Bar of California 

Post to Twitter

What is a living trust?

August 7th, 2015 | Posted by admin in Estate Planning - (0 Comments)

It is a written legal document that partially substitutes for a will. With a living trust, your assets (your home, bank accounts and stocks, for example) are put into the trust, administered for your benefit during your lifetime, and then transferred to your beneficiaries when you die.

Most people name themselves as the trustee in charge of managing their trust’s assets. This way, even though your assets have been put into the trust, you can remain in control of your assets during your lifetime. You can also name a successor trustee (a person or an institution) who will manage the trust’s assets if you ever become unable or unwilling to do so yourself.

The living trust described here is a revocable living trust (sometimes referred to as a revocable inter vivos trust, revocable trust or a grantor trust). Such a trust may be amended or revoked at any time by the person or persons who created it (commonly known as the trustor(s), grantor(s) or settlor(s)) as long as he, she, or they are still competent.

Your living trust agreement:

  • Gives the trustee the legal right to manage and control the assets held in your trust.
  • Instructs the trustee to manage the trust’s assets for your benefit during your lifetime.
  • Names the beneficiaries (persons or charitable organizations) who are to receive your trust’s assets when you die.
  • Gives guidance and certain powers and authority to the trustee to manage and distribute your trust’s assets. The trustee is a fiduciary, which means he or she holds a position of trust and confidence and is subject to strict responsibilities and very high standards. For example, the trustee cannot use your trust’s assets for his or her own personal use or benefit without your explicit permission. Instead, the trustee must hold and use trust assets solely for the benefit of the trust’s beneficiaries.

A living trust can be an important part — and in many cases, the most important part — of your estate plan.

from California State Bar

Post to Twitter

Are there various kinds of wills?

July 31st, 2015 | Posted by admin in Wills - (0 Comments)

Yes. In California, you can make a will in at least one of three ways:

A handwritten or holographic will. This will must be completely in your own handwriting. You must date and sign the will. Your handwriting has to be legible, and the will must clearly state what you are leaving and to whom. A handwritten will does not have to be notarized or witnessed. However, any significant typed material in a handwritten will may invalidate the will. (A typed will must be signed by two witnesses who jointly witness the execution of the will or were both present when you acknowledged that you had signed the will.) It is a good idea to consult with a qualified lawyer to make sure your will conforms with California law and does not have any unintended consequences.

A statutory will. California law provides for a “fill-in-the-blanks” will form. (This form can be printed out from the State Bar website. Go to www.calbar.ca.gov and click on Will Form under Quicklinks.) This will form is designed for people with relatively small estates. If there is anything you do not understand or if you are making any provisions that are complicated or unusual, you should ask a qualified lawyer to advise you.

A will prepared by a lawyer. A qualified estate planning lawyer can make sure that your will conforms with California law. The lawyer can make suggestions and help you understand the many ways that assets can be transferred to or for the benefit of your beneficiaries. A lawyer can also help you develop a complete estate plan and offer alternative plans that may save taxes. This kind of planning can be extremely helpful and economical in the long run. Your lawyer will either personally supervise the signing of your will or will give you detailed instructions on the rules for its execution by you and two witnesses (who are not beneficiaries of your estate).

Like most states, California has unique laws about what constitutes a valid will and how one should be executed. Use caution if you try to draft a will using a will-drafting kit or software.

No matter what kind of will you use, the will should be solely yours and not a joint will with your spouse, registered domestic partner or anyone else.

Also, keep in mind that your will is not a living will. The term “living will” is used in many states to describe a legal document that states you do not want life-sustaining treatment if you become terminally ill or permanently unconscious. In California, advance health care directives and durable powers of attorney for health care decisions are used for that same purpose.

 

from California Bar Association

Post to Twitter