• Thu. Dec 1st, 2022

In California, you can only pay an attorney to make a will, or you can do it yourself. Why?

ByPatricia S. Stevens

Nov 24, 2022

If you’re trying to forgo religion or politics this Thanksgiving dinner, try estate planning. After all, a will is more than just a piece of paper—it’s an opportunity to shape your legacy, help those you love, and advance the causes you believe in.

But in California, arbitrary and vague rules have made it largely impossible to create one without expensive lawyers. That needs to change.

Making a will in California can cost up to $400 in attorney fees. This price is too high for many, but a relative bargain compared to the alternative – an inheritance – that may be necessary when someone dies intestate. When a loved one’s estate goes through a probate process, the family can face significant costs — an attorney can be paid $4,000 to process a $100,000 estate through the probate process.

In a way, California law recognizes this financial barrier. State law allows Californians to handwrite their wills without witnesses. However, since most people do not know how to properly draft a legal will, there is real potential for costly mistakes.

Why should the only options be between expensive legal fees or betting on an uninformed person’s understanding of the probate law?

In truth, probate isn’t so complex that you need to attend three-year law school and pass the bar exam to demonstrate your competency. What makes a will a complex document isn’t the law, but the fact that it reflects our complex relationships—with dear friends, significant others, blood relatives, and special occasions. A good therapist is probably more important for the drafting of a will than an expensive lawyer. An honest lawyer would tell you that.

Unfortunately, the law does not reflect this reality.