Probate Attorneys


Estate Administration Attorneys

Probate Terms - Glossary How to Avoid Probate
Partition of Real Estate - Forced Sale

The probate attorneys with Michael T. Chulak & Associates represent clients throughout California including the following areas:

• Ventura • Oxnard
• Thousand Oaks • Simi Valley
• Moorpark • Santa Rosa Valley
• Camarillo • Port Hueneme
• Santa Paula • Ojai
• Fillmore • Newbury Park
• Oak Park • Westlake Village
• Agoura Hills • Santa Barbara
• Santa Maria • Goleta
• Carpinteria • Summerland
• Santa Ynez • Lompoc
• Montecito                

Probate Process

Probate is a court proceeding in which:

  • The authenticity of the will (if any) is established,

  • The executor or administration is appointed,

  • All debts and taxes are paid,

  • All heirs are identified, and

  • The property in the probate estate is distributed according to the will (if there is a will). If there is no will (or living trust), the property will be distributed in accordance with the laws of intestate succession which you may not like.

Probate and Estate Administration

Probate is required in California for most estates of $100,000 or more where the deceased did not have a living trust, or certain assets were left out of the living trust. Summary Probate Administration is available for estates where the estate is valued at less than $100,000.

Probate is the legal process of authenticating any Will, paying the estate taxes and other debts, and then distributing the property to heirs and beneficiaries.

As probate attorneys, we can help you as an executor or personal representative, discharge your estate administration duties so that all property can be distributed as fast as possible. We can also assist you in preparing any accounting and tax returns.

Probate is expensive (statutory fees) and time consuming. Simple estates in California take an average of six to seven months to complete. It is for this reason, the attorneys with Michael T. Chulak & Associates recommend living trusts for most people who own real estate, have minor children or who have estates with gross assets exceeding $100,000.

Frequently Asked Questions

Probate, Living Trusts and Taxes

Q. Where are Probate Petitions filed?
A. Petitions are filed in the Probate Court (Superior Court) in the county in which the decedent resided.

Q. Is it necessary to go through probate if the Decendent had a living trust?
A. Hopefully not, but possibly. If the Decendent failed to transfer all of his of her assets to their Living Trust, probate may be required.

Q. Is probate expensive?
A. It is clearly much more expensive to go through the probate process than dealing with the distribution of assets from a Living Trust. Compare Living Trust to Probate.

Q. Who decides whether the Probate Petition will be approved?
A. The decision is made by the judge who hears the case.

Q. How long does the probate process take?
A. Assuming there are no problems with taxes, creditors, or people contesting the probate, the average probate in California will take about six to seven months. This includes a four month creditor's claim period.

Q. Is probate a confidential process?
A. No. It is open to the public which is only one of the reasons most people want to avoid probate.

Q. Who is entitled to notice that a probate has been commenced?
A. California law requires that notices be sent to all of the heirs of the decendent, beneficiaries who are named in any will, and proposed executors.

Q. I own a condominium worth about $475,000 and have other assets worth about $25,000. I have a mortgage of $450,000. What would my probate fees be on my $50,000 net worth?
A. By state law, probate fees are calculated on the gross estate, not on the net estate. The probate fees on a gross estate of $500,000 are about $13,000 plus possible extraordinary fees as defined by law. A living trust would cost between $1,000 and $1,500 to establish and would avoid probate.

Q. What is an Executor?
A. The person named in your will to manage your estate, deal with the probate court, collect your assets and distribute them as you have specified. If you die without a will, the probate court will appoint such a person, who is called the administrator of the estate.

Q. If I have a will, why would I want a living trust?
A. A will is a one-way ticket to probate. Wills often must be formally verified or proven by a probate court and result in substantial probate fees being paid.
A living trust is almost always the best way to plan an estate because it avoids the probate process and all probate fees. The probate process often takes over six months, whereas with a living trust, property can usually be distributed within one week.

Q. Can a living trust save on estate taxes?
A. Yes. While this is not always the case, many people are in a position to save on estate taxes by use of a well drafted living trust.

Q. What happens if I have no living trust or will?
A. The state has written a will for you that you may not like. It goes into effect automatically when a person fails to make their own estate plan. Probate and probate fees are included.

Q. Why should probate be avoided by use of a living trust?
A. In addition to the fees and lengthy administrative process, probate is a public process. It is not confidential as with a living trust. All members of the public have access to all information including who is receiving what property. Also most important, with a living trust, family living expenses can be provided almost immediately. With a will, the court must evaluate and approve the distribution of family living expenses.

Q. Will owning property in joint-tenancy avoid probate?
A. It will postpone it until the second person dies, at which point, probate will be required. In the event of simultaneous death (such as in an auto accident), probate will not be postponed. Joint tenancy has other possible disadvantages as well. It can result in a loss of control over the assets and may have severe adverse tax consequences. It is not the best estate planning method.

Q. Is a living trust valid in every state?
A. Yes. It is valid in most other countries as well.

Q. Is a living trust expensive?
A. No. The cost is modest when compared to the costs of probate. The cost will depend upon the complexity of the plan, the type and amount of your assets and the amount of tax planning required. Always obtain a quote in advance and ask for a fixed fee.

Q. Does it make sense to have a living trust if I am not married?
A. Yes. If you want to avoid probate, you should have a living trust.

Q. Can two unmarried people who are living together have a living trust?
A. Yes. This is quite common and often makes sense.

Q. If my child dies before me, does his or her spouse become the beneficiary of that child's share of my estate?
A. It's up to you, but in most cases the answer is no. Usually the share goes to the children of that child (your grandchildren). If the deceased child has no children, usually the share would be divided among your other children. The formula is entirely up to you.

Q. Do I still have control over the property in my living trust?
A. Absolutely. As trustee of your trust, you can do anything you could do before.

Q. Can I leave part of my estate to a not yet conceived child or grandchild?
A. Yes. This can be accomplished easily with a living trust.

Q. Can I use my living trust to provide long-term care for a disabled child or grandchild?
A. Yes. A living trust is the perfect tool to use for long-term care of any type.

Q. Can I provide for my pet in my living trust?
A. Most definitely. A properly drafted living trust can provide for the long-term care of your pet after you are gone.

Q. How difficult is it to change my living trust?
A. It's very easy. Changes are made by a simple amendment as long as you are living.

Q. Can my successor trustee make changes to my living trust?
A. No. Upon your death, the right to make changes ceases. The living trust becomes irrevocable and the trustee is under a legal duty to fulfill every instruction in your trust document.

Q. Is the cost of a living trust tax deductible?
A. Usually yes. See your tax preparer for details.

Q. If I transfer my home to a living trust, can I still deduct the interest?
A. Absolutely.

Q. Which assets should be transferred into my living trust?
A. Generally, everything other than life insurance policies, IRAs, Keoghs and other pension plans.

Q. Can my mortgage lender "call my loan due" if I transfer my home into a living trust?
A. No. The lender's position remains the same and they cannot call the loan due.

Q. By transferring my home into a living trust, will I cause a reappraisal under California's Proposition 13?
A. Absolutely not.

Q. Should my life insurance policies be owned by my living trust?
A. No. In most cases, the living trust should be named as beneficiary of all policies. This will eliminate the risk that the named beneficiary (or beneficiaries) could die simultaneously with the owner of the policies, thus subjecting the insurance proceeds to probate. The policies should be owned by the insured.

Q. Should my IRAs and Keoghs be placed into my living trust?
A. A living trust should never own your IRAs and Keoghs because such a transfer would be equivalent to an outright distribution. Thus, it would have negative tax implications.
Most people name their spouse as beneficiary and their living trust as contingent beneficiary.

Q. If married, what happens if I have separate property?
A. Separate property is still transferred into the living trust. The assets will retain their character of separate property by use of a "Separate Property Agreement."

Q. If I have a living trust, will I still need a will?
A. Yes. A pour over will transfers any property left outside the trust at death to the living trust. While such property may still be subject to probate, it can at least be distributed as part of your overall estate plan.

Q. Do I need an attorney?
A. Yes. Only an attorney can give legal advice. It never makes sense to take unnecessary risks.


Church and Synagogue Donations Program

The law firm of Michael T. Chulak & Associates is offering a no-cost program to assist Churches and Synagogues located in Los Angeles County or Ventura County increase donations.


Free Estate Planning Seminars

Please visit for a schedule of free estate planning and other legal seminars that we offer. Valuable information will be provided followed by a question answer session. This is an opportunity to ask questions of an attorney at no cost and without any obligation. We hope to meet you in person at one or more of our legal seminars.


Probate Real Estate Sales

Attorney Michael Chulak is the broker and a co-owner of Pacific Realtors which represents buyers and sellers of residential properties, commercial properties, land, and businesses involving probates and conservatorships anywhere in Southern California. If you have inherited real estate that you would like to sell, please call Pacific Realtors for a no-cost broker evaluation or Michael Chulak at 818-991-9019.




Living Trust Mills - Consumer Warning

Companies advertising "living trusts" sometimes misrepresent the advantages of living trusts. But the most serious problem is the misuse of the financial information sales people obtain to prepare a living trust. Unfortunately, this information is used to sell unneeded annuities and various investments, most often to senior citizens.

Sales agents for these operations often misrepresent the disadvantages of seniors' current investments and the advantages of the investments the agents are selling. They may even make seniors believe their bank accounts are less safe than the annuities or other investments they want seniors to buy. To give themselves a cloak of legitimacy, these sales agents pretend to be experts on living trusts. In their solicitations, these sales agents often pose as expert financial or estate planners. They pass themselves off as a "trust advisor," "senior estate planner" or "paralegal," and schedule an initial appointment with seniors in their homes. Under the guise of helping set up or update a living trust, the sales agents find out about seniors' financial assets and investments. They sometimes work in assisted living centers, churches and other places where seniors gather, hooking elderly victims through free seminars and other sales presentations.

Sometimes, through fraud and deceit, the sales agents damage seniors' estate plans, and the security of their investments and life savings.

Usually, the sales agents schedule a home visit to explain the living trust and use a second visit to deliver a completed trust and have documents signed and notarized, and title of assets transferred to the trust. Typically, during the second visit, the agents go over the assets to be placed in the trust. The agents may have seniors sign documents that transfer the senior's CD, mutual fund accounts, or other investments to an annuity, or promissory note or other investment. They use that review of seniors' investments to scare them into believing their investments are unsafe, and that by moving their money, they can earn higher interest with less risk. Frequently, there are substantial penalties for early withdrawal of some investment accounts.

Planning an estate and choosing investments involve important legal, financial and personal decisions. If estate planning documents are not properly prepared or executed they can be invalid and cause lasting damage.

Following are tips to help consumers avoid becoming victims of living trust mills and their scams:

Living trust mills' sales agents are rarely licensed attorneys and are not experts in estate planning.
Watch out for companies that sell trusts and annuities or, other similar investments.
Sales agents may fail to disclose possible adverse tax consequences or early withdrawal penalties that may be incurred when transferring stocks, bonds, certificates of deposit or other investments to annuities.
An annuity is not 100% safe, and only a portion is guaranteed by the state. Insurance companies can and do fail, and their assets may not be enough to pay the full value of their customers' investments.
Promissory notes are not insured by the FDIC or any other government agency and may be very risky.
Before consumers buy an annuity or any other investment, they should review it with people they know and trust, such as their CPA or attorney, and trusted family members.

An attorney qualified in estate planning can help consumers decide if they need a living trust or other estate planning documents, or help them review an existing trust or will.



The information presented on this site was prepared for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It should not be relied upon as a substitute for consulting with a licensed attorney in your state. The law is constantly changing. In addition, the information presented may not be up - to - date or 100% complete. Our attorneys are licensed to practice law in California and seek to represent clients only in California. Sending us an email or other communication does not create an attorney - client relationship. Only signing a retainer agreement will establish an attorney - client relationship. This is an advertisement.

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