Attorneys for Wills, Trusts, Estates & Guardianships

Parent Q&A

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  • I need to do estate planning and potentially dissolve an S-Corp. Can the same attorney or firm handle both or is it better to go with attorneys that specialize in each? If it's the latter, any recommendations for a business lawyer would be greatly appreciated. 

    My parents ended up building a portfolio of properties. Now that they’re being passed to us, we’ve dealt with the same attorney for estate/business transactions and situations. I don’t see why you would need two different attorneys. In fact, that might be complicating things for yourself. Find one that could suit your needs.

    the lawyer we’re working with is great Matthew Avedikian in Concord

  • Hi all,  I am looking for a financial advisor for help with inheritance issues and other senior citizen type questions, relating to how to pass property to my son. 

    I am not looking to invest or buy stock -- just need help with how to plan in the long range.

    thank you,


    Hi -- I have just gone through my mother's estate and thought I would share a few thoughts I have though they are not directly related to your question.  We did not have to sell her property and it made it so much easier to distribute her assets.  Personally, I have put my home into a trust for my son but he is a teen and I have no plans to sell yet.  Dealing with a trust can be challenging and every bank/asset mgmt company seems to require different forms and they use their own processes.  It was super easy if my name was on the account (one way or another).  For my mother's accounts that I had login info for, I lost access immediately when they heard she had passed.  I couldn't login, couldn't see the account, the beneficieries or anything like that and the companies would tell me that they couldn't talk to me until I proved who she was, that she had passed and I had to prove I was executor of her estate/trust.  It made me think that anyone who has to manage a mortgage or other financial needs after their loved one passes would need quick and easy access to funds so they could continue to meet the financial obligations of the person who passed.  It took me about 3 months to get access to funds and some are still in progress.  I just wanted to share that with you in case this would help when you speak with someone.

    For who to use, I used California Document Preparers in Oakland and I think they are now "Guideway Legal Document & Mediation Services".  They made it easy.  Good luck to you

  • I have an elderly mom with cognitive and other chronic health issues. 

    I am her POA and successor trustee for her trust. 

    I spend a lot of time caring for her and managing her medical care, finances, supportive care at home, etc.  I have taken medical leave to care for her  

    My siblings refuse to help care for her in any way  

    I am looking for an attorney who can help me figure out how to handle my siblings and their spouses (at least one of whom is hoping our mom dies soon so she can get an inheritance). Our mom does not have a lot of money, but does own a property. 

    Thanks in advance for any suggestions. 

    It's not clear what "manage" your siblings means in this context, but perhaps the type of professional you need depends on who the trust's beneficiaries are. Are you worried the siblings will challenge the terms of the trust? Or you or your mom want to amend the terms of the trust to remove the uncaring siblings? I will say that in my experience, if the elderly parent has "cognitive" issues, you may be leaving yourself open to claims of undue influence if the trust changes at this point; on the other hand, it all depends - a little forgetfulness is a different story that a diagnosis of any form of dementia. You could start with the lawyer who wrote the trust and go from there (if not them, perhaps they can recommend someone).

  • Need a referral to an attorney to help me, as successor trustee of my incapacitated parent's living trust.

    My mom is now unable to make her own decisions. I'm her successor trustee. I need help figuring out how best to execute my duties (especially given that I have two siblings who do only a very minimal amount for her with respect to her care). I am strained physically, emotionally, and financially by caring for her. I also need to understand what to do/not do to avoid getting myself into trouble somehow as I'm trying to do what's best for her physically, emotionally, and finanically. 

    Hi - I can recommend Caron Calabrese at Woodward Law. She's in San Diego but was still able to help us with our trust and estate planning. She's specialized in trusts for a long while now. I've also known her personally and she is a lovely person and easy to work with, even remotely. (858) 598-5552

    Good luck. That sounds very hard.

    We used Summerall Law ( to create our wills and living trust. They were great to work with and I think could provide the personal touch that you may need. If they are not the right fit, they may be able to refer you to a different attorney.

    I had a really pleasant experience with Christina Chung Law.  She has a kind but professional demeanor.  

    We used Rachel Dodson.  She was available and accessible.  She explained things very clearly.  She has worked with me as the trustee, guiding me through the process. 

  • I heard from my real estate agent that if you own a house in CA, you need to get a trust to avoid high probate fees for your beneficiaries, in the case of your passing away.  Can someone recommend an attorney who does trusts and wills?  I would prefer an attorney with a kindly disposition but also highly competent.  Thank you!

    I highly recommend Summerall Law on Piedmont Ave. in Oakland ( We worked with them to create our trust and wills. They charge a flat rate that is very reasonable, it is quick, and the attorneys were a pleasure to work with. They even give you a highlighted page of next steps after your trust is created (putting the title of your house in the name of the trust, etc.). 

    We used Summerall Law and they were fantastic and made it so easy for our clueless selves!

    Tell then you heard about them from BPN for a slight discount. Really nice people too!

    My whole family (which includes some attorneys) has used Nicole Davidson at She is amazing!

    We live in Piedmont and own a home so we needed to get a trust.  There is a wonderful trust and estate attorney based in Castro Valley named Christina Chung.  Her website is  Honestly, planning a trust felt like an overwhelming task and we delayed for a long time.  But Christina made the process so simple and easy, explaining everything along the way.  She's super organized and reliable and her fee was modest.  She's super competent -- she's a graduate of Harvard Law School!  Truly, she exceeded my expectations.

    We had a great experience with Peter Shelton in downtown Berkeley. He was knowledgeable and friendly. He listened well when we described our situation and had useful suggestions. His website is

    Yes! Very important to have a trust. I highly recommend Michele Ting at Watson and Machado. She works out of their Silicon Valley office (they also have offices in San Francisco and Sacramento). I believe she will meet virtually if that is preferable to you. Michele is warm, knowledgeable, efficient, and yes highly competent. I have worked with several trust and estate attorneys. I recommend Michele without reservation.

    She's a bit of a drive away (in the Penninsula), but I highly recommend Quynh Tran, who is part of the Bay Wealth Legal Group. She is friendly and knowledgeable, and she will make sure you only come into the office when absolutely necessary.

    If you have the option for a legal plan through your employer, I would highly recommend that.  I used Jennifer Brown jennifer [at] for this plus all the other estate planning, health care directive, etc stuff and she was great (it was through MetLife legal plan so I paid next to nothing).  I don't know what her rates are otherwise.  She is based in Roseville but the entire process was done via phone, email, and mail, and was much easier than I could've hoped for.  I found her through a coworker who had also used her.  

    We used Katelyn Phillips and Jim Phillips - they have offices in Castro Valley and San Mateo and did all our standard estate planning stuff. They definitely made it easy. Katelyn left the practice for a new job. Jim may or may not have another attorney since that occurred in 2021.

    I've used Christina Chung as well.  She was great.  I live in Berkeley and we did all our meetings on zoom, with the final signing meeting in person.  She has a very friendly and kind personality.  I highly recommend her.

  • Estate Planning Attorney

    Mar 21, 2023

    Could anyone recommend an excellent estate planning attorney with whom they've worked extensively? We need to set up trusts and guardianships for our children, wills, etc. We are looking for an attorney who is a clear communicator, can guide us through our options, and help us make informed choices. It would be great if they practiced in San Francisco or the East Bay, but anywhere in the greater Bay Area works. Thanks so much!

    Not an attorney, but we had a great experience doing this recently with Guideway (offices in Oakland, Tri-Valley, and Walnut Creek--we used the Oakland office). We had a relatively straightforward situation (pretty typical shared assets, house that we wanted to move into a trust, and needed to choose guardians and write wills and advance healthcare directives). Their process was very clear and easy to complete, they answered all of our questions and notarized/filed all the paperwork, and the whole thing was pretty affordable--far less than it would have been to do through an attorney. We'd been dragging our feet on doing this for some time and it was nice to finally knock it off the list. I believe they only handle uncontested matters, though, so probably not the right fit if you need someone to help you negotiate disputes with a partner or co-parent around these decisions.

    We LOVE Summerall Law []

    Excellent followup, transparent pricing on website, and timely and thorough work. I think you get a discount if you say I rerfered you.

    Patricia De Fonte is a phenomenal estate planning attorney. We worked with her to set up our trust and guardian nomination. She really gets to know you and understand your goals. For example, our guardian nomination wasn’t just names and contact information. It included our wishes for our child so that the guardian would know what we want. I’m an attorney myself and was really impressed with Patricia.

    We use Michael Blacksburg and he's fantastic! 

    We recently used Albert Wu at Summerall Law (on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland) both to set up all of our own estate plans and to update my mom's existing documents.  Everybody we encountered in their office is so friendly and helpful - they made the whole process non-intimidating and easy to understand and helped us think through all the various issues.  We are very happy with the outcome and I highly recommend them. 415-944-9406

    Jeanne Darrah, a solo practitioner in SF, is fantastic. She went into this practice area out of a strong desire to help ease end of life concerns. She is empathetic and reasonably priced. When updating my in-laws’ documents (my father in law was dying and my mother in law has dementia) she traveled to their home in the East Bay. Please let her know I referred you.

    -Lisa Feldstein 

    We had a great experience with Anne Wenger from Mc Laughlin Legal. They are in San Diego, but really you could just see her via zoom.... it was excellent and a great price for a Trust, will, etc etc 

    anne [at]

    Hi, seeing two recommendations for Summerall Law here, I just feel compelled to provide a counterpoint. We had a TERRIBLE experience with them, TWICE. We should have not used them again after the first time, but we were hoping it was a fluke, and unfortunately it wasn't. If you are using them just make sure you read EVERY WORD of the legalese in their documents and make very sure you understand it all. We did that and realized in some places the documents did NOT represent our wishes - in some rather scary ways. If we hadn't invested a lot of hours to do this and follow up on anything that was unclear, we would have never known. So just be very sure you understand what EVERYTHING means before you finalize, and don't just assume they get it right because they are the experts. It's tempting to use them because they take the workplace legal plans which makes them affordable. We fell for that. But knowing what we know now we would have rather paid full fare at a better place.

  • Hello, I am looking for a Korean speaking estate attorney. They can be located in the Bay Area, or in the Santa Barbara or Los Angeles area. Any referrals appreciated!

    I don't have a recommendation, but when I was looking for something similar a while ago, but for a Mandarin or Cantonese speaking attorney, every lawyer acquaintance I asked said to start with the State Bar. The CA Bar referral site for SF is here. A quick search did not turn up Korean, but you might have more luck with the LA equivalent.

  • Attorney for living trust?

    Feb 11, 2022

    Hello, I've looked in the archives and there aren't any super recent recommendations. Has anyone worked with an attorney you would recommend to create a family trust?  Many thanks.

    Hi there, We JUST went through this process and had a really good experience with Lisa Mann at Cunningham Legal in Montclair, Oakland. She was super knowledgeable and very, very patient with all our questions. Highly recommend!

    We used Summerall Law recently and were really happen with them

    I can highly recommend Jay Rodarmel at LifePlan Lawyer. We had done a will and trust 20 years ago and hadn't touched it since, so we were essentially starting from scratch. Jay was knowledgeable of the intricacies of estate and trust planning, kept the process moving with defined progress points and productive (but not stressful) meetings on Zoom and in person, and best of all was a thoughtful and active listener who helped us navigate some tricky issues where my husband and I were coming from somewhat different places. The process was as pain-free as I could have imagined; it's freeing to have this stuff in order.

    I highly recommend Sarah Summerall of Summerall Law. Easy to work with, good communication, explained things clearly and was extremely affordable using my employer-provided legal insurance.  Even if you don’t have legal insurance I would recommend her.

    Hi! We used Dr. Sara Diamond for our living revocable trust. She is on the ARAG network, so my legal insurance through work covered it (except for notary fees). Her email is sarardiamond [at] and office in Richmond Hilltop Mall. She is very responsive and professional. We had a relatively simple case, so we were able to gather all documents via email and send to her, meeting with her only for the notary appointment (and you can also choose someone else to do the notary for you).

    We used Michael Ferguson in Berkeley.  Excellent attorney.  Probably one of the most knowledgeable in the area [meaning both geographically and this legal specialty].…

    Had a great experience with Kelly wessels at summerall law. Seamless process over a few zoom meetings. 

    Mike Ferguson with Ferguson & Berland ... he's a great Trust attorney, teaches at Cal, is outgoing and friendly, and has reasonable charges. He did my Living Trusts, and we loved working with him. 

    1816 Fifth St, Berkeley, CA 94710

    Phone(510) 548-9005

    My husband and I worked with David Cross last year. Articulate and easy to work with. Answered questions right away. He is based in the Silicon Valley but we met over Zoom. 

    David A. Cross

    Cross Law

    19925 Stevens Creek Blvd, Ste. 100

    Cupertino, CA 95014

    Phone: 650-503-3078

    dcross [at]    

    I had an excellent experience just this month with Summerall Law on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland.  They specialize in estate law, and we were able to do everything by phone and video call until the final signing of papers, which took place outside in the parking lot (for covid safety).  We worked with Albert Wu, who is lovely.

    My family used Quynh Tran at Bay Wealth Legal. Her practice is in San Mateo, so a bit of a trek for us (from Berkeley), but she was recommended, and I cannot speak highly enough of her. She answered my husband's million questions with patience and only called us into the office to sign the paperwork once we were done with the process. (This was pre-Covid, but we had a very small baby at the time). 

    Please do NOT use Mike Ferguson. He left our family in the lurch. He completely disappeared when we needed him most following my father's death -- never answered emails or phone calls, failed to file essential paperwork, was completely absent throughout the process of settling my father's affairs. In fact things are still not resolved and I place a great deal of blame on him for ruined/damaged family relationships. Avoid him!

  • Looking for a recommendation for an attorney who can handle a kinship guardian case.

    Call Legal Services for Children in SF, they may be able to assist for free.

  • Hi All, 

    I need an estate planning attorney, ideally in San Francisco, ideally a member of the ARAG insurance program.  Any recommendations?

    I'm partnered, but not married.  Kid(s) may come into the picture in the next year.  


    If Atashi-Rang Ewing Rice law firm in SF is still working with ARAG, we were really happy with them! 

    We used Amir Sarreshtehdary to do our estate planning last year, through ARAG. He is based in San Rafael but will travel to meet with  you. We did most of the meetings by phone then one final in-person meeting to sign documents. He was very professional and easy to work with, and the process was very smooth. amir [at], (415) 506-4556

  • Hi All.  I'm looking for an estate planning attorney, ideally in San Francisco, but I'm willing to travel a bit for quality.  It will be a simple plan.  

    I'm also looking for an estate planning attorney for my mother.  Also simple. Also ideally in San Francisco.  


    We used Perkins Coie in San Francisco. They did a very good job. We found them as they offered pro-bono services to nurses at SFGH at the beginning of the pandemic and my husband and I both work there and had our first baby 4/29. I was pretty worried one or both of us could die and we didn’t have anything in writing. They were AMAZING and so compassionate and helpful with us. (We worked specifically with Anne Rhodes but I don’t know if you get to choose? She was assigned to us). 

    We just went through this a couple months ago. Mark Rodiles-Peterson with Wade Law was so helpful and a pleasure to work with. I highly recommend him. Mark [at]

    I'm based in Berkeley, but worked with Quynh Tran in San Mateo. She is wonderful, very thorough and communicative. She was even super flexible on timing and let us bring our baby in for signing. You can find out more about her practice at

    Ingrid Berger at Berger, Nicholson, LLP was great and we really enjoyed working with her.

  • Greetings,

    I need to establish Guardianship over my soon to be 18 year old son. Previous BPN listings are 3-4 years old. My son qualifies and I know the basics of such documents. Definitely looking to work with someone who has years of experience in this area, and who has worked with single parents. 

    Legal clock is ticking.

    Check out Attorney Betsy Thompson in Walnut Creek. This is her area. She is an Estate Planning Attorney and has done similar work for my family.


    The Alameda County Bar Association has a free legal guardianship clinic. Attorneys help the guardians prepare the papers, file the papers, and serve the appropriate persons. It is income qualified however. Also, since you mentioned your son is soon to be 18, perhaps you mean a conservatorship, which concerns adults. Usually used for the elderly or those with dementia, a conservatorship is also used for developmentally disabled youngsters. As you know the age of majority in California is 18, so parents needing to make legal, medical, financial and persona decisions for young adults require a court ordered conservatorship. In any event, contact the Alameda County Bar Association for referrals.

    I recommend Julie Fiedler from Horizon Law. 925-275-5509. We have a family member with mental health issues and I had to take control of her care and finances as she was unable. Julie was very knowledgeable and helped us get everything set up.

  • My husband and I are in the process of adopting a sweet (now ten month old) baby through foster care. We need some help with our will. Maybe we need a trust -- I don't know. We want to designate my niece and her partner as his guardians should something happen to us. If they became his guardians/parents when he was still young, we would want to leave a large portion of our assets to go to them to use in raising him. But if, say, we perished when he was 17, we'd want to leave most of our assets to him. Further, we're interested in setting up a college fund and also a separate investment fund for big life events like starting a business or buying a house, but maybe it should be restricted to retirement? These are our questions. It seems like there is probably a formula in place, especially for the guardian question, and what portion of assets would go them versus him, at what age. We're not talking millions here, but a house, savings, insurance, pension. Can a lawyer do this for us? We live in Berkeley and would appreciate suggestions for someone who can walk us through it, preferably not too far away.

    We used Michael Burnstein for that sort of stuff about a month before our son was born, and it was easy and all done over the phone and email. He charged us ~$2k for all the pieces (trust, will, etc), which I think is a good price? Though it's still a lot. There are services online that will walk you through the steps for much less, but we found them really confusing, so it seemed worth the money to just get it done and be confident that, were sometime terrible to happen, whoever remained wouldn't be sorting through a legal mess. My parents and in-laws used him as well. His website is

    we recently went through the same process of creating living trust for the family and guardianships for our children. The process was actually pretty simple after one or two discussions with lawyer David Mendelssohn 415.951.9116.

    We were in the same boat and went through Jessica Barsotti ( who made the process fairly easy. She was sensitive to issues that were particular to us, as adoptive parents. Based on what you are describing, you will probably want to put most of your assets into a living trust, as well as making a will and power of attorney. I might not be remembering correctly, but I think the guardianship question was in the will. You will want to plan for at least 3 potential placements for your child in case something happens to the first in line, otherwise you will have to redo your documents. You can also separate the questions of who would manage the trust and who would care for your child, which we did in the event that our 3rd choice would be caring for our daughter, both because we wanted her to not worry about the money and estate stuff, but also because we wanted a bigger team for our daughter.

    For the college money, you may want to start a 529 account. I am not sure if Jessica does this. My in-laws set up the 529 through Konstantine Giannoutsos at TIAA in Oakland.

    Michael Ferguson has been my estate and trust lawyer for many years, and I never hesitate to recommend his services.  He went the extra mile to help a friend who was dying of cancer to get her estate in order.  His office is on 5th Street near Hurst in Berkeley.  Phone (510)548-9005.

    I can recommend Peter Shelton. peter [at] 

    He practices in downtown Berkeley.  He's been wonderful. 

    Tell him, Sirpa sent you if you end up using him. Thanks. 

    Michael C Ferguson - Berkeley, CA

    1816 Fifth StreetBerkeley, CA 94710- 1915

    Ferguson & Berland, P.C.

    Michael was my Estates and Trusts professor in law school and did a will and trust for me and my husband (with young kids involved) and my parents. His firm is great.

    You should contact my estate planning attorney, his name is Richard Lee, he's located in Oakland. He really knows his field, and can gently guide you.

    I did exactly the same!  Loved my trust lawyer.  He will walk and talk you through all the details.  There is an unbelievable amount of information to digest and decisions to be made.  He also has done the trusts for many of my friends and came though for one after death when it was challenged by a discredited relative.

    Amir Atashi Rang  (415) 1398-7275

    amir [at]

    I don't have a lawyer recommendation for you, but based on the research I've done as a layperson, I can clear up one basic confusion for you.  If you want your assets used to raise your son, you don't will them to your son's guardian at all; you will them to your son.  (Your son should also be named as the beneficiary -- after each other -- on your insurance and retirement accounts.)  In your wills, you name your niece as both the child's guardian and also the administrator of the child's financial affairs while he is still a minor. (Or you can name two different people for custodial care and guardianship vs financial management and guardianship!)  Alternatively/additionally, you can set up a trust which provides that upon the death of the longer-lived spouse, your son is the beneficiary and your niece is the trustee.  A lawyer can set this all up for you, but if your situation is fairly simple you may want to start with the Nolo Press "WillMaker" software, which will guide you through writing appropriate estate planning documents yourselves.

    What kind of investment accounts to set up to save for college, retirement, and other major goals and how much to put in them is a mostly separate question, and that's where you want a financial planner.

    Congrats on the upcoming adoption, and best wishes to you and your family!

    We did ours through Laura Patton (laura [at] ( and she was wonderful to work with. She was able to help set up guardianship, medical directives, trust etc... for our family shortly before we had our daughter in 2018. She asked many questions about things we hadn't thought about and was great at explaining all of the legalese to us. She works out of her home so she conveniently comes to your house or place of your choosing for meetings!  

    We used Elaine Ercolini to set up our will and trust (elaineercolini [at] and liked her. She is a Berkeley based lawyer and helped us set up all the necessary paperwork for our will and trust. She also had us fill out a form that asked some of the questions you raise above to help us think through how we want to structure our trust. It might be worth reaching out to her to see if she can meet your specific needs.

    I highly recommend Stefanie West, an estate planning attorney with an office in Walnut Creek. (925) 952-7990
    My family enlisted her services a couple of years ago, and she's really smart, caring, and very committed to her clients. She even does home visits for some clients!

    I'm not a financial planner or lawyer, but am a parent who designated guardians for my children.  The advice we got was to set up a trust.  We named a separate trustee to administer the assets of the trust for our children, and someone else to be their guardians.  That way, the guardians don't have full control over both the children and the money.  It's a safeguard.  Also, the money is not left to the guardians--it's left to the trust, to be held for the children, and some of the assets will be distributed to the guardians, by the trustee(s), for expenses they incur in raising the children.  The rest of the money/assets are held in the trust and then the children inherit it whenever you decide you want them to inherit (age 18, 25, whatever.  You can pick--there's no law that says they have to get all the money as soon as they aren't minors.)  If, separately, you wanted to leave some money to the guardians, you could do that, but any money you want to be used for the upbringing of the children should be in the trust.

    You should speak to a financial planner, and then to an estate attorney.  It will cost some money.  Mine are not local so I can't give you any names.  Good luck.

    I recommend Kathleen Hunt. 510-289-2288 

    My wife and I used her for our living trusts and, then later, when we had kids, she helped my wife "adopt" them and add them to our trusts. We live in East Oakland and (I think) she lives in El Cerrito, but she had no problem coming to our house to meet. My wife has a challenging work schedule to work around, but Kathleen was flexible and made it work easily. She is wonderful!

    Brynne Wilson is amazing. She specializes in working with young families. I highly recommend setting up a trust after having a baby/adopting. She actually just notified us there has been a few changes in trusts for 2020. I would highly recommend her she really knows her stuff. bwilson [at]

    Hi there. My husband and I are also looking to set up a will for our new little one. We are planning on using Joe Cooter. We like that he is caring (someone we trust discussing such important and sensitive decisions with) as well as detail oriented and super smart. Here's his website.

    Congrats on your newest addition, and best of luck!

    Following this thread since we're in the same boat. Might have to wait a few weeks since my partner is about to give birth again but what we're worried about is the price. A friend referred us to a firm and we were quoted about $2k. We were told this was a good deal but since we're new to this or hiring lawyers in general, we weren't sure. Is that the expected price range?

  • Hi!  I need a lawyer to review a Restricted Stock Purchase Agreement that I have to sign (my husband is is the employee/Purchaser but I need to sign as well) but I see a section that makes me nervous and I feel it would be in my best interest to have an Attorney look at it before I sign.   I also need help with Estate planning/will.  Thank you so much for your help!!

    We used Jeff Levi at Wendel Rosen for estate planning with very good results.  My husband and I worked in large corporate law firms, but wanted our personal legal services to be handled outside of our respective employers.  Jeff has also been a good resource in finding attorneys within and outside of his firm for other legal matters not estate planning related.  

    I highly recommend Amanda Ewing-Rice at Atashi Rang.  She is very clear very thorough and very personable. She listened carefully and offered thoughtful pertinent advice. 

    I like Reece Halpern at Halpern Law Office on Solano ave. in Berkeley.  I've used him for estate planning and referred clients to him, and everyone has been very happy with the results.

    Hi, I’m not sure about the estate planning but the tax ninja ( is an excellent tax attorney who advised us on a restricted stock purchase and has been very helpful to us financially in general.

  • Hello,

    We're looking for a referral for a trust and estate lawyer. My wife and I are expecting our first baby in late April and we were hoping to get our affairs in order prior to baby's arrival.

    Primarily, we're looking to create wills, durable power of attorney, healthcare power of attorney, guardianship, and whatever else we'd need to do to get things sorted; gay-friendly is a must.

    Many thanks for any referrals you can provide.

    Hi there, 

    My husband and I just did our estate planning with Kelly at Summerall Law: He specifically talks about working with all types of families and ensuring they have the right plan in place for their families down the line. We thought he was very knowledgeable and helpful throughout a fairly emotional process.

    Good luck -- hope this helps!


    We used Carol Hoffman who is based in North Berkeley (near the gourmet ghetto) because we were also expecting and she was great - really helpful in thinking through how to create structure for future generations. 

    Carol L. Hoffman, Esq. (510) 647-8044carollaw [at] (carollaw[at]sonic[dot]net)

    We worked with Cassandra Massey who specializes in this work specifically.  She's located on Bay Farm Island in Alameda, and was sharp and professional, and easy to work with, as was her staff.  We received a paper binder of our documents, and a thumb drive with electronic copies.  She also helps with some extras like recording a 'priceless conversation' where you indicate how you want your child to be raised, your values, etc. for the benefit of any short/long-term caregivers in the event you pass unexpectedly.  A basic engagement is $3500, which seems to be the going rate, but also felt high to us.  Where we're from in the midwest, it costs half that, and the lawyer does a lot of the legwork for you.  With this engagement, we were given the binder of all of our materials, but it was up to us to transfer all of our assets into the trust at the end of the process.  With a newborn with serious health issues, we have only managed to move 2 or 3 out of 10 assets over.  Big banks like Chase, Wells Fargo, etc. make it very hard to transition from a personal account to one belonging to a trust - it can involve closing and opening new accounts, and then updating all of your direct deposit, auto pay, etc.   I wish someone would have told us about this significant piece of legwork before we started the process.  We are glad to have the wills, trust, and power of attorney in place, but we are not sure when we'll be able to piece together all the time to finish moving our assets over.   I heard from someone else afterward that Cassandra Massey and some of the other big names in doing this work will offer a more full/concierge service where they help you with more of the asset moving work, but I shudder to think how much additional that may cost.   

    Also FYI that establishing a trust in California means your trust is administered here.   I have watched most of our friends who had babies in the Bay Area, who were not natively from here, move elsewhere for lower cost of living, proximity to family, etc.   If you think there is any chance you will move, I would consider printing off some basic wills and powers of attorney from NOLO and seeing if you stay in California once baby is born.  If you move, it is likely far more economical to pursue your trust in your new state, and also more practical.  If we ever move, we will need to pay again to reestablish our trust in another state, or accept that when we pass someone will need to fly to California to administer our trust.   Good luck!

    We used Stephanie West and she was awesome. Super personable and highly efficient. She works out of Walnut Creek but will travel to you too. My husband is trans and she was very respectful, even notarized our second parent adoption paperwork for us! 

  • Hi there,

    Seeking recommendations for East Bay attorneys to write our will - specifically those who accept the UC Berkeley legal coverage.


    We used Sara Diamond in downtown berkeley with the UCB coverage and had a good experience.

    We were happy with the living trust we set up at Summerall Law on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland . With ARAG insurance our out of pocket cost was pretty low. 

    We had a good experience with Sara Diamond.  Depending on your situation (do you own a home in the area?), she might recommend a trust rather than just a will,. With the legal plan, it cost us almost nothing (just a few bucks for notary fees, etc.)

  • Looking for a reliable and efficient lawyer to revise will and trust doc’s.  Prefer Berkeley Area.

    thank you for any recommendations!

    We just finished our estate planning with Stephanie West. She was wonderful, thorough and highly personable! She’s based on Walnut Creek but will come to your home if you’re in a certain radius which was highly convenient for us since we have a rambunctious toddler and no child care. Highly recommended!!

    My husband and I work in large law firms in SF, but live in North Oakland (Telegraph / Alcatraz).  Didn't want to use the services of attorneys we worked with. 

    We hired Jeff Levi at Wendel Rosen.  He is in Downtown Oakland.  Satisfied with him (easy to talk with re our needs), clear explanation of current practices and options for our wills and living trusts (our older estate plan documents needed updating).  

    I used Michael Cramer in San Leandro...really great guy!510-351-2856

    We used Betsy Thompson at Thompson Law Offices in Walnut Creek for an estate plan. They are a small family run firm downtown and very reasonably priced.

    I am an attorney, and the following are my recommendations for people looking for trust and estates attorneys to create their estate planning documents or update them. If you are employed by company who offers legal insurance as part of your benefits package, I recommend contacting them first as they will provide local trust and estates attorneys in your area (and you may not have to pay out of pocket). You may want to also contact Alameda County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service or your county bar association, in order to get a list of attorneys in your area. When you call these attorneys, I would ask what percentage of their practice are focused on trust and estates. I would also ask  if they have experience in trust administration and probate as these attorneys will have better insight on how people may avoid any pitfalls in drafting of you documents. Best of luck!

    I also highly recommend Stefanie West, who helped me with estate planning for my mom. She's really smart, and really pleasant to work with.

    I highly recommend Kathleen Hunt at Unique Law. She recently helped my wife and me with our wills and setting up a trust and we were extremely happy. We both work full time and Kathleen came out to our house (in Albany) in the evening after our son went to sleep, which made scheduling a breeze. She was very organized and efficient, but was also happy to take the time to answer all our questions.

    We highly recommend Kathleen Hunt. Her web site is We are really busy and hadn't taken the time to update our old estate planning documents from 2005. We called Kathleen and she came to our home and helped us get everything done. At each step she clearly explained what the purpose of a document was and how it would work. She thoroughly answered all of our questions and we felt confident she would be a good attorney to work with our families should something happen to us. Along the way she gave us good advice about what to look for in a trustee, how to handle the kids' trusts, what to do in the time between an incapacitation and a judge's hearing, and so forth. We had some family friends and their children stop by as the final witnesses for the signatures (again, in our home!) and our friends were equally impressed with her friendly yet detailed professionalism.

    Her fees are very reasonable and she's flexible about allowing you to save money by doing some of the work yourself. We opted to have her do everything because we know ourselves, but the option is there.

  • My parents live in Germany, and they plan on leaving me both cash and (jointly with my siblings) the apartment they own. They have asked me whether I would prefer to have some of the cash now, i.e. as a gift.   Some additional relevant background: I am a permanent resident here. I may eventually become a US citizen (and keep my German citizenship), but that won't happen for at least a couple of years.

    I have tried and failed to understand the tax implications of the question of gift vs. inheritance, and the citizenship bit.  It seems that different states in the US have different rules, and so do different countries (unsurprisingly).  I would like to talk to someone knowledgeable specifically in U.S., California, and German tax law. I have asked around a bit, but people keep recommending their financial advisers and tax lawyers who are no doubt brilliant, but have no specific experience with Germany.  I also asked friends in Germany and kept getting referred to people who don't know the U.S. end of things.

    I would be very grateful for recommendations for professionals to consult about this (tax lawyers or financial advisers, for example). If you are (or have been) in the same boat as me, I would also be interested in hearing about how you are handling this, if you are willing to share your experiences.

    Generally, both gift and estate taxes apply to gifts or estates from U.S. citizens or permanent residents (whether they live in the U.S. or abroad), because it is the giver who is taxed. (Citizens and permanent residents are equal in the eyes of the IRS.) Assuming your parents are neither, you are dealing with German law around this, not U.S. law. (If your parents are also U.S. citizens or green card holders, then those gifts are subject to U.S. taxes, but the U.S. also has a gift/estate tax treaty with Germany, so you'd need to review that to determine how you would be taxed.) I would be surprised if California taxes something like this that is exempt from federal taxation, but honestly have no clue on that, so that would be a question for a CPA or tax attorney.

    This is very random, but it might help. I'm an Italian to English translator and knowing what I do about my profession, I'm sure that a German to English translator specializing in financial matters would be able to point you in the right direction. They likely know a few lawyers/international tax specialists that they work with that deal with these types of things on a daily basis. You can find someone on the American Translators Association website - Filter your search in the translator directory for German to English translators specializing in finance and law. Hope that helps!

  • Our family is in the process of drafting a will and we are trying to find an attorney who has knowledge of issues that could arise if the named guardian for our kids is not a US citizen and also non-resident.

    In the event that our kids are orphaned, we have agreed they would go to live with my sister, who shares the same nationality as myself, and lives abroad. The kids also have relatives in the US, but there is no one who is as well positioned/ inclined to care for them.

    Our concern is that my sister would need to sell our house and access our life insurance policies in order to be able to provide for the kids, and we need to know how to structure it so that there are no financial penalties for her accessing those funds as a non-US resident.

    If anyone can recommend someone with this kind of situation, or similar, I would really love a recommendation. It’s something that weighs on my mind, that we have not taken care of these small but important details.

    We used Jeff Levi at Wendel Rosen in Oakland for our family's estate planning and found him knowledgeable.  

    You could contact him and find out, if he can help you.

    Marie and paul

    Ryan Apperson is professional and efficient and I was very happy with the work he did for my family.    He can be reached at: ryan [at] 

    I think your concerns are valid, especially in this political climate.

    I don't have experience with this specific situation. I just want to note that the person who administers your will--or trust--need not be the same person as your children's guardian.

    If you have someone you absolutely trust who lives in this country and (even better) is a U.S. citizen, perhaps you can appoint them to be the administrator/executor, with the specific directive that their responsibility is to make sure those funds are available ASAP to your sister for your children's care. Having that money at a bank with a branch office near them is even better. I have found that when handling other people's money and with rising concerns about identity theft, it is useful to have the option to show up in person.

    An attorney can prepare an outline of the steps the executor would need to take to transfer the money. However, what they can't do is predict what laws will be passed in the future that make make that process easier or more difficult. I suggest you allocate some portion of those funds to cover the time and expenses of the administrator in assisting the transfer.

    You also will want to verify that the country you want your children to move to will admit two under-age American citizens to reside in their country, and investigate any related citizenship or financial issues that could arise.

    I recommend Attorney Arabelle Malinis (amalinis [at] (amalinis[at]malinislaw[dot]com)). She helped my wife and I create an estate plan that includes nomination of guardians in our respective wills. There’s two type of guardians: guardian of the estate and guardian of the person; you can nominate that same person for both roles or a different person for each role.  She was helpful in helping us think through who would be the best fit to be our child’s guardian, and what factors to consider including location, values, and financial stability, among others. Her fees are very reasonable, and she’s very prompt in responding to emails and phone calls. 

    I recommend Kathleen Hunt (510) 289-2288.

    She helped my wife and I set up our living will and put everything into a trust when we were starting our family. She also helped us with the "adoption" process that same-sex married couples have to go through in order for the non-bio mom to be legally named as the other parent.

    She lives in El Cerrito, but she'll come to you. 

    Tell her Mailisha sent you! 8^)

  • Hello, I looked back in the archives and some of the posts on this topic are old, so I'm looking for new recommendations for a lawyer to help us (my husband and myself) create a Will and also Guardianship papers of what we'd like to do with our 2 small children in the event we die or are no longer able to care for them. If we can throw in some Advance Healthcare Directive paperwork in there too, all the better. I know there are ways to do this online (Legal Zoom or Fabric?) but it sounds like it's really best to have a lawyer do it, if you can afford it. We can afford about $1000 to do this. Is that unrealistic? It should be pretty simple, as we don't own a home or have many assets. Can anyone give a specific recommendation of a lawyer or law firm who can help with this on a small budget?

    We met with Kathleen Hunt ( and found her thorough, patient, and extremely helpful -- she charges $2000 for a couple but offers free updates for 2 years, which sold us.

    I've worked with Ryan Apperson and found him very efficient and professional; here's his contact information:

    Ryan H. Apperson, Esq.1855 San Miguel Drive, Suite 17Walnut Creek, CA 94596Phone: (925) 317-8100Fax: (925) 317-8182ryan [at] (ryan[at]ryanappersonlaw[dot]com)

    Kathryn Korn prepared a trust & Advanced Health Care Directive for my parents, and helped with various other family law issues over the years.  She's personable and easy to work with, at a good location in Orinda, and reasonably priced.  If you contact her and specify what you have in mind, she can probably give you a good price estimate. 

    You can contact me if you want more information.

    Kathryn Korn, Esq.
    Tel: 925-253-1808
    kathryn [at] (kathryn[at]kornlawgroup[dot]com)

    Kathleen Hunt was wonderful and affordable! I think $1500, I'm not sure if you can find $1000. She came recommended by multiple friends and we felt she did a thorough job. She's been super responsive to follow up questions as well.

    Try Michael Toni at mtoni_law [at]   He's independent and lives in either Moraga or Orinda.  He created our trust/wills/healthcare directive about a decade ago, and has been making changes for us along the way as needed.  Six of my friends and colleagues also hired him, and everyone was really happy.  He's responsive and thorough.  We paid slightly more than $1000, but that was to do a full trust, etc.  He will at least reply with a quote if you tell him what you're searching for.  He was about 25% the cost of a regular law firm, and I've had a friend who's an expert in estate planning review the documents and stated it's comprehensive.  I agree, with two small children it's best to have an expert ensure you have everything in place.  Good luck. 

    Stefanie West. She prepared a trust for my family when my kids were young and has updated it as necessary. Her price is very reasonable and she’s very knowledgeable. Her office is in Walnut Creek but she is available to meet with you at your home.She will draw up the necessary documents and keep in touch with you to keep them up to date.  (510) 684-8365

    Cassandra Massey did our will, guardianship papers, and healthcare directives about 5 years ago. She and her office were fabulous. We did this just a few months after our daughter was born, and my husband & I were a disorganized mess, but they were very helpful, knowledgeable and understanding throughout the process. I don't remember how much it was - may have been a little more than $1000, but it was a flat rate and I remember thinking it was reasonable. We're long overdue for an update of all our paperwork, and I wish I still lived in state: I'd work with Cassandra again in a heartbeat. 

  • I am  a single mom with a teen looking for an excellent and honest lawyer who can help me write a trust (and a will).

    I am also considering starting with Nolo Press and then having it reviewed by a lawyer.

    Appreciate any suggestions and thoughts.

    For a smooth and easy process at a reasonable cost, I recommend Smartwills, a small business run by Berkeley attorney Scott Pesetsky. You do most of the work online on a platform called Basecamp that lets you exchange documents and email each other, and they create the documents you need, tailor them as you need, send out a notary for the signature, and have everything legally recorded. My husband and I used them this fall to create wills, a trust, and advanced directives for health care. It's $2500 for one person, $3600 for two. Scott was extremely responsive and accessible and it was much cheaper than going to a lawyer, which was going to cost us around $6000. Check them out at

    I was introduced to NetLaw by someone who is able to offer a discount on that service. I'm very impressed with them. Their customer service is excellent and they've won an American Bar Association award for their product. They offer a will, trust, and other related papers -- so this would be similar to your going to Nolo. One difference may be that they are constantly updating their documents via collaboration with attorneys throughout the U.S. -- upon my request for more info, they have differentiated themselves from a "forms library." Anyway, I've used them and am comfortable with the results. Contact me if you want a referral to the person who got me the discount :)

    I can whole-heartedly recommend Susan Jewel and Heather Stoneman ( -- offices in SF and Walnut Creek). Both of these attorneys are knowledgeable, super smart, kind, and patient. They are also scrupulously honest, flexible about the kind of help they can provide, and pretty fun to talk with (if this kind of thing can be fun...maybe not, but they are entertaining enough to make it seem so). They helped my family with our will and trust, and have since answered questions that come up. Look them up! They are awesome!

    I also highly recommend Susan Jewel. She helped me with my trust, my grandmother's and brother's trust including help after they passed. They're stellar. 

    I highly recommend Kathleen Hunt at Unique Law. She is located in El Cerrito, if that location is convenient to you. She is very easy going as a person and was razor sharp at talking us through scenarios that we never would have imagined initially.


Archived Q&A and Reviews

Seeking good trusts/estates lawyer

Jan 2014

Could anyone recommend to me a good trusts/estates lawyer who also has some familiarity with Social Security regulations? I am currently on SSI disability, but have come into an inheritance. I would like to find out how the inheritance impacts my SSI. Thank you very much. Jim

Try Unique Law. Kathleen i think is her name. Very knowledgeable about trusts and wills and powers of attorney and could probably figure out your issue. Just google Unique Law in Albany, CA. Anon

Ann O'Hara on Ashby at Domingo. Amelia

Dear Heir You need to talk to an attorney who deals with special needs trusts since your inheritance is at risk. An inheritance, litigation award, or insurance proceed is considered SSI ''income'' in the month of receipt. In the month after receipt, if retained by the benefits recipient, the asset will be counted as an SSI ''resource.'' Supplemental Social Security Income (SSI) is a needs based (welfare) program. However, social security disability is a different thing. Lynn

Estate Planner - Sara Diamond or Jeff Tachiki?

Dec 2013

Hi, I am about to do an full estate plan, thanks to my law insurance via Hyatt Legal Plans...I'm looking for a lawyer in the network that is on the younger side so will ''grow'' with our family over time. Has anyone worked with either of these people? Jeff Tachiki or Sara Diamond
Thanks in advance! looking for best lawyer

We had a great experience with Sara Diamond when we needed to update my parents' estate planning documents. She immediately caught a missing clause that could have caused a huge problem, and counseled us on how to handle it. She was smart, knowledgable and extremely kind. I highly recommend her. Janet

Sara Diamond shared too much personal information with me and I felt uncomfortable. We switched to someone else. Anon

Hey looking-for-best-lawyer, I have worked with Jeff Tachiki and can confirm that he's a good guy and a good attorney. I am also an estate planning attorney, but I don't accept Hyatt, only ARAG legal insurance.

We've had great experience with Sara. Don't know the other one so can't comment. Brian

Hi, you should call each one and hopefully talk to them in person as well as to the person who answers the phone. See if they promptly return calls, if you understand what they say, if you like them, if their hours and location are convenient for you, etc. Also ask about any ''extra'' costs. Many of the contracted estate planners add for notary services, copy services, upgrading from a Wills only package to a Trust package etc. Also, make sure you've read your benefits so you know exactly what is covered. Sounds like you have a good one. Good luck and congrats on getting it done! Kris

Moved and need to update our will - why does it cost so much?

Oct 2013

We have a will that was prepared by an attorney when we lived in a different state. We would like to update it but are having problems finding an affordable estate planner in the area. We've been quoted thousands of dollars to do this here, and I don't understand why it costs so much. We have friends who live in Santa Rosa and they, and their parents, had wills drawn up by attorneys in their area for a fraction of the cost here. So why is it so much more here? And is it really necessary to hire an attorney? Can't we just NOLO or something? We have an estate worth less than a million, with real estate, stocks, etc. Does anyone have a suggestion for an attorney? Another option? Thanks

Daryl Yorky works out of Oakland and I like him quite a bit. Best, Reenie

Kathleen Hunt ( was absolutely fantastic for writing our estate planning documents. She came to our house, put up with our screaming baby, and somehow extracted from us all of the necessary personal decisions to create custom estate planning documents. A second visit to our house completed everything, including all of the signatures and notary work. Amazing! Highly recommended. Blake and Lynsay

I highly recommend Kathleen Hunt at Unique Law ( She comes to your house to make this unpleasant task more palatable, is affordable, and she clearly knows her stuff. On top of that, she is down to earth and friendly. michelle

Living Trust/Will for young family

Oct 2013

We are a young family with one three year old toddler and a second on the way. We do not have any paperwork in place to protect our family and children and are seeking to get this done in the next two months before the arrival of the second baby. From quick searches, it seems the way to go is a revocable living trust / will. What exactly is estate planning?

We are not anywhere close to being rich however we do own a small condo and have a small savings account which may be depleted if we decide to buy a bigger place with more room for the kids as that would be used for our down payment. We also want to be sure that we can name our kids our beneficiaries in the case that anything happens to us and avoid the need for them to go thrugh probate court. We also want to be able to name a few guardians in the case that anything happens to us.

Any recommendations on what exactly we should be putting together in terms of paperwork would be appreciated as well as names of someone who is trusted, and can handle the financial aspect as well as the legal aspect of this. We would like someone who is affordable & has the patience to sit down and explain all the options and what these options really mean so we can be sure to make the right decisions for our family. Thank you, mama wanting to get it together

Response to ''Mama wanting to get it together'': Because of all the recommendations on BPN, we contacted Kathleen Hunt who we found to be very smart, clear and down-to-earth. The fact that she came to our home is a bonus, and she patiently explained what to expect and what we needed to do. We are the parents of a special-needs child, so what happens with his guardianship and our property are decisions that had to be made. After two meetings with her, our minds were put at ease that we'd finally taken care of this difficult but important matter. The entire process was much quicker and easier than we expected; that is, the legal part and paperwork that Kathleen handled. She was very good at motivating us with gentle persuasion to get the harder decisions made. Our experience with Kathleen was very satisfying, and we recommend her highly. Her contact information: kathleenhunt [at] (510)-289-2288 Signed, Karen D.

I recently had all of my legal paperwork done by Kyle Johnston in Oakland. He was very thorough and great at explaining things. Also, he is just a nice guy and easy to work with. If you have ARAG insurance through UC, he is a covered provider as well. Please tell him I sent you (I get no kickbacks - I am just very happy with is work!). Congratulations on taking taking care of these important issues. I know so many parents who don't have this kind of paperwork in place. Lori

Lawyer in Berkeley to do trusts wills

April 2013

Hi, We live in Berkeley and are looking for a lawyer to assist us with our will and trust. Does anyone have any good recommendations? Thanks anon

Kathleen Hunt, She is smart as a whip, she comes to your house (which probably keeps her rates lower than many lawyers'), she is unpretentious (she looks like an earth mama in jeans - but wait til you see her brain in action - omg), she is friendly and communicative, and she'll get the job done. Anon

I recommend Rebecca Conradi who is in montclair. she is very nice, very knowledgeable and sophisticated (I am an attorney and have a little knowledge of estate law, and was impressed) and charges very fairly (she ended up billing me less than she quoted). anon

I recommend Kathleen Hunt. She was great for us! She came right to our home and made the whole process easy. Not cheap, but easy. 8^) Mailisha

My wife and I had our will and trust prepared by Michael Ferguson of Ferguson and Berland in Berkeley. His office is located near the Fourth St shopping area and there is client parking at the rear of the building. Michael's specialty is in this area and he did a terrific job at a reasonable fee. He is friendly, knowledgeable and puts his client's wishes and decisions first. His office number is: 510-548-9005. Roger

Although she is not located in Berkeley, Kathleen Hunt of Unique Law in El Cerrito is an excellent attorney for wills and trusts. She is very dedicated to doing the best for her clients and willing to go the extra mile for them. She did the estate planning for my husband and myself, and we are both extremely happy with her work. trumpee

Attorney needed to look into father's estate

April 2013

Hi, I have a situation that is sort of complex and I'm wondering if anyone here in BPN have ever had the same experience and if anyone can recommend a very good lawyer. My father just recently died and made a will before he died. My first concern is that my sister who is the oldest, took my parents to her friend lawyer right after my dads chemo without the rest of the children. Second, I didn't find out about it until my mother told me that they have already done it and my sister didn't let me see the will until pretty much my father was in his death bed. I have questions regarding the will and how it was done and written. Third, I need a lawyer who knows how to deal with estates that is located in another country. Also preferably a Tagalog speaking lawyer , so that my mother can understand what is going on. Thanks.. Casey

I recommend Nicole Aruda as a highly competent, caring estates and trusts attorney. Nicole is very patient, ensuring that her client's understand the myriad of issues involved in a thorough and effective estate plan. Nicole helped me navigate tricky issues involved with my brother's special needs trust. She was calm, direct and creative when it came to ferreting out pertinent information and designing strategies and solutions. I appreciated Nicole's perceptive questions and that she was careful to never complicate conversations with incomprehensible legalese. Nicole took the time to make sure that I understood the issues that needed addressing and the options available to me and my family. If you are looking for a kind and caring attorney Nicole Aruda is the attorney you want. Nicole can be reached at (510) 325-1945 or at nicaruda [at] Anne

Great, straightforward Berkeley estate lawyer is Duane Leonard: He is a straight-arrow, knowledgeable about trusts and wills, and totally thorough. 1936 University Ave Berkeley CA, 94704 (510)843-2321 Tell him that Merry says hi

Nov 2012

Re: Adding a name to a deed mortgage
We hired Kathleen Hunt at Unique Law to help us with some legal issues for setting up durable power of attorney, getting a trust established and filing with the county , and getting a will done. She is smart, great to work with, comes to meet you at your home if you would like, and is quite experienced and knowledgeable. If she does not have the ability to address your particular need, then she may know someone who does. We hired her again when our papers needed updating. She has experience helping families with all sorts of different structures to set up their legal papers in a way that ensures there wishes will be met. I imagine she could help you with adding a name to you property deed and tell you what your bank needs to add a name to your mortgage. You can find out more about her at Anon mom

Estate attorney in Berkeley

Oct 2012

I'm looking for a local estate attorney (N. Berkeley area)- recommendations would be appreciated! Melanie

Tova Zeff at 510-593-8393 is an estate attorney and I believe she will meet you at your location though she is based in Rockridge. She's terrific and easy to work with. lisa

We have been working with Kathleen Hunt for the last couple of years and she has been great. She is flexible and works around your needs (she recently did a conference call with my brother and I on a Sunday because it was the only time she could get us at the same time). She is reasonably priced. Not only did she do my family's will and trust, she did my brother's family and my mother's as well. My mother recently passed away, so now Kathleen is helping us with the estate distribution. Kathleen can be reached at (510-289-2288) or kathleenhunt [at] Eden

I would like to recommend Estate attorney Kathleen Hunt. After procrastinating for many years, I contacted Kathleen after reading recommendations on BPN. Both my husband and I were very happy working with Kathleen. She came to our home, was prepared and very calm in explaining the procedures for setting up a trust as well as our will and durable power of attorney. She was sensitive and helpful in exploring the questions and answers we needed to discuss. Kathleen's rates were reasonable also. Here is her contact info: kathleenhunt [at]

Paul Epstein is a wonderful and experienced lawyer in disputes over estate/inheritance. He is also very sensitive to the intense feelings that can go along with Losing a loved one and dealing with the will, relatives, etc. An excellent person to work with, and effective. His office is in down town Oakland (Triay law, 510-832-8700). Heidi

Lawyer rec for creating a living trust

Sept 2012

It's time that we make a living trust for our kids! We keep on putting it on the back burner but I want to tackle this before the end of the year. Do you have any recommendations for a lawyer who can help us make a living trust? Approximately how much does it usually cost to make a living trust? Our finances are fairly uncomplicated: a house mortgage, one working parent for a family of 4, kids will go to public school and no outstanding debt. We live in Walnut Creek but it seems like lawyer location isn't too much of an issue as we would be able to work on it over the phone/email. Thanks! Exploring options to make a living trust

I agree that it is really important to get this taken care of. I was very relieved when we were done. We used Richard Lee in Oakland. He was very attentive to our needs, has years of experience, and is sensitive to the individual client. I do believe, as well, that after an initial visit, you probably can accomplish it with email and phone calls. Give him a call at 510- 701-9333. Good luck with this. Leah

I highly recommend Clark Allison 916/983-9410. Although they are in Folsom, they will visit you when it is time to sign everything. He and his wife Paula work as a team and were super great to work with. I think it was about $1500 for our simple trust but they had great advice, and are always there to answer questions by phone. Karen in Oakland

Hi there! With a lot of compounding issues is my situation( blended family but not really) Karen Meckstroth navigated the situation beautifully with empathy compassion ion and honesty . She asks the hard questions in such a way that its like confiding in an old friend. She really contemplates your situation and gives it her personal time, effort and energy that sets her apart . I can not recommend her more highly ! She has two offices in San Francisco and Palo Alto or Los Gatos, but has not problem doing whatever she can via email or phone. 1 (408) 402-6444 and her email is karen [at] You will be very impressed And more importantly, have peace of mind! Stephanie

We used Sarah diamond in berkeley. Wills,trust,living will. Package deal. I think b/t $2000 & 3000 I think. We used ARAG so paid very little. good lick & good for you!

I highly recommend Kathleen Hunt, an excellent wills and trust attorney, at 510-289-2288. We have just finished working with Kathleen on a family trust. Kathleen is a very knowledgeable estate attorney, is very ethical and is a pleasure to work with. She did an excellent job of simplifying estate issues and the complicated language often used in these documents. Although Kathleen is based in El Cerrito, she has clients throughout the Bay Area and is more than willing to meet with clients at their homes. She came to our home twice--both times over a weekend--so we were able to complete everything easily within 7-10 days. She has several wills and estate package plans--all priced quite reasonably--and did not try to sell us a plan that was more than we needed. We are very pleased with the help she gave us and can sleep better at night knowing that we have set things up properly for our children. Marilou

Emily Thompson is in Walnut Creek and I cannot highly recommend her enough. My mother's trust was somewhat complicated and her price was beyond reasonable. The bank specialist told me he has seen many many trusts and ours was the best, most organized trust he had seen and for the price. He said there are so many disorganized trusts that have crossed his desk and for double the price. Emily is a very honest, professional attorney. Her number is 925-935-5566. Thankful Client

I wish I had a good rec in the East Bay, too. I can only say that we tried Sara Diamond (recommended on BPN by others), and we did not find her to be helpful. She was anxious, somewhat condescending, and did not seem very family friendly. I would be a bit cautious before proceeding with her. Anon

We just created our trust for the same reason. We worked with Kathleen Hunt. We were very pleased with her service. We found her on Yelp and on the Berkeley Parents Network. Kathleen had great reviews and now we know why. Kathleen was just a pleasure to work with. She came to our home in the evenings and on the weekend to meet with my family. She spent a great deal of time to answer all of or questions and well as educating us about the process. We never felt rushed or pressured and were very comfortable with her. We had consulted with a few other Attorneys as well as buying the Quicken Software to do it ourselves. Feel that we would have made a terrible mistake to attempt to do this on our own. She covered areas that the other Attorneys never mentioned. Her fees were also very reasonable compared to other Attorneys. She even helped us to do a little legwork ourselves to save a little more. I would highly recommend Kathleen and would not hesitate to refer our friends and family to her. Here is her contact info: (510)-289-2288. Good luck. Yenny

In response to a recommendation for a lawyer to create a Living Trust: We have been working with Kathleen Hunt at Unique Law for the past few years for our Living Trust and Will needs, both for the creation and update (as needed) of the documents. She has made the process easy and understandable. Not only have we been very happy with the legal/documentation aspects of the process, but she has exceeded our expectations with regards to scheduling meetings. She seems to really understand the crazy schedules that parents deal with and thus has come to our house or done phone calls for all meetings, and has been very accommodating with our schedule. I would highly recommend using her for your Living Trust and Will needs. jesse

I can recommend Kathleen Hunt at Unique Law as an estate attorney who made the entire living trust process easy for our family. She came to our house, asked good questions, listened carefully, and was ready with all the paperwork when she said she would be. It cost $2000 total for me and my husband, and it was worth it for the peace of mind. You can reach her at kathleenhunt [at] Sima

I can recommend Kyle Johnston (510) 527-1880, He is really approachable and doesn't make you feel stupid for asking basic questions. His rates are reasonable, too! Camille

I can highly recommend Tova Zeff. I worked with her when my company became incorporated. I could not have done it with out her. She was through and knew her stuff, and trusts is more her speciality. I know you will be happy with her. Tovazeff [at] Good luck Eric

I also used Kathleen Hunt based on BPN recommendations. She was efficient and definitely on the low end of pricing. However, she missed two substantial issues for my not terribly complicated trust. She did not grasp that my younger son still had college to pay for--so splitting my estate 50-50 was not appropriate as a way to divide my estate between my two sons. Even worse, she did not catch that including my father as a beneficiary would have had MAJOR tax implications for the inherited IRA's--ie the proceeds would have had to be distributed using his life expectancy, rather than my older son's life expectancy. I caught both of these issues--although the latter too late to get it fixed in the trust. So maybe this is an example of getting what you pay for. wiser now...

Attorney needed for sibling inheritance dispute

Aug 2012

I am heading toward mediation with my brother to divide my mother's complex real estate holdings. I need a recommendation for an attorney with experience in alternative dispute resolution in the context of estate planning and trust issues. I am looking for an attorney who has represented beneficiaries in a disputed inheritance setting. Unfortunately, we both want the same property. It is time for us to get individual attorneys to prepare for mediation. Need knowledgeable help

We used Peter shelton to come up with our will, trust and advanced care directive. He's so knowledgable in these disputes and he's been a pleasure to work with. He takes his time and explains all our options to us and has so much experience. I would recommend him hands down. Sara

2009 - 2011 Recommendations

Will to specify guardian for our children

Dec 2011

I'm looking for someone to create a will for us that basically just says who our kids will go to if anything happens to us. We have savings but don't own property, so I don't know that a living trust is needed right now. Basically, we need to make sure that if anything happens to me or my husband, our kids would go to my brother and his wife or to my parents if for some reason my brother can't take them and that there would be no chance they would somehow end up with my in-laws (my husband is in agreement on this and my brother knows he's first in line for the kids). Who can we go to who is affordable? We've done the basic Nolo will and had it looked over by an attorney friend, but I'm wondering if we need something more ''official.'' looking out for the kids

If you have completed the Nolo will according to instructions and executed it properly in front of witnesses you should be fine. If you are unsure whether the NOlo will is correct for California, check it against the free California Statutory will on the State Bar of California website.

Only in a will can parents nominate a guardian of minor children. Each parent needs his/her own will, and they should be consistent as to the guardian nomination.

Of course nothing about a nominated guardian can replace parental rights, so of course a surviving parent would prevail over a nominee.

The court will give preference to the parents' nominee,but since CA courts have jurisdiction over minors, there still needs to be a legal guardianship process. Feel free to email me if you have further questions. Lynn

Even without real estate, it is often a good idea to create a living trust when you have minor children. Otherwise, any money that is set aside for them may be subject to continuing oversight by a court -- thus adding time, significant expense, and ongoing inconvenience for your children and their guardian -- even if the amount of money is below the standard probate minimum.

If this is not a concern for you, a Nolo will is probably sufficient. Any attorney who is experienced in this area can add a couple of sentences to ensure that the wrong people cannot become guardians of your children; this kind of service should not cost you much. In my own practice, for instance, I typically review Nolo wills very inexpensively (sometimes free of charge), and even adding language like that involves less than an hour of time. Kathleen

I highly recommend Gigi Orta with Osterloh & Orta, LLP. - - Nadine

Tova Zeff ( )is a terrific estate attorney and I''m sure she can give you information about costs. Lisa

Even if you don't have assets you may want a living trust so that your life insurance policies(which I hope you have) go through that and not probate. I used Kathleen Hunt for my will and living trust and her fees were reasonable. Prepared

Need a Tough Probate Litigator

Nov 2011

I am in need of a very smart and tough probate litigator. My mentally ill/drug addict brother was granted the administration on my mother's probate (long story) and his attorney is allowing him to mismanage this process (my brother has been allowed to have his drug addict friends move into the house before it gets prepped for sale). His attorney, I believe, is also going to argue for special fees at the end. (He seems to be doing most of my brother's work.) Because my brother is considered completely disabled due to mental illness, he can only inherit so much money, so he does not care about getting the best deal, but I have already spent several thousand dollars dealing with the mess and would at least like to get my money back. The attorney took this case on knowing my brother was mentally ill and a drug addict with a jail record. I am in North Berkeley but anywhere in the Bay Area is fine--I just need someone who is smart and fearless. The attorney I first hired on this was not a probate litigator and just could not deal with my brother's attorney. I need someone who can. No Messing Around

Monica Dell'Osso is our estate lawyer, not cheap, but direct, super firm, crisply intelligent and thoughtful, got nails in her gut. She's at Burnham Brown in Oakland and she's always cited in the top lawyer lists in local press. fuseaction=people.personDetail=10513 Good luck- christina

I highly recommend Bob Foster. From his website, this is what he does: ''litigation and administration of probate estates, trusts and other succession matters.'' He looked into a horrible probate situation for me. He researched and explained everything to me, for a fee, including what had gone wrong that could not be corrected. He did not actually work for me because it didn't make financial sense to hire him. He was really good, far and above all the other attorneys I spoke with to try to fix the mess. Mr. Foster takes cases in Orange, LA, & Riverside counties. I encourage you to contact him to see if he can help you with your situation, or if he can recommend a colleague here in the Bay Area. I wish you the best. Robert A. Foster, II Attorney at Law 2361 Campus Drive, Suite 220 Irvine, CA 92612-1592 949/476-0476 fosterbo [at] I googled his name to get to his website. Julie

Call Tova Zeff. She's a great estate planning attorney who's been practicing for a long time, knows good people, and can direct you (free of charge) the person you need. 510-593-8393. Michele

Will and other Estate Planning for same sex couple

Oct 2011

Looking for a reasonably priced lawyer to do wills and powers of attorney for myself and my spouse. I would be interested in also knowing from people who did this what price range could be anticipated. Cathy

We recently worked w/ Hale Kronenberg for estate planning. My partner and I are unmarried but have a house and kids together (opposite sex, but I think it's basically the same as if we were same-sex, and he mentioned he regularly does estate planning for domestic partners.) He did a will for me, a trust for my partner, and set up powers of attorney and advance health care directives for both of us. He was pleasant to work with and very affordable. His office is in downtown Berkeley. Happy estate planner

Contact Ora Prochovick. She is located in SF, right by BART downtown. Very affordable, really nice, also is a lesbian and does lots of work with GLBT people (but also with straight people.) She did prenup work for me for $350. oprochov [at] Anon

Financial and Legal (Estate) Advisors Needed

Oct 2011

Hello, We are in need of both a good, trustworthy, local Financial Advisor, and also an Attorney for some legal advice regarding estates / wills / etc. Can you recommend one, or both, of these types of professionals? We live in Berkeley. Thanks so much. Needing legal/financial estate recommendations Home grown accountant

I would like to strongly recommend George McNitt for your legal estate advice that is needed. He is a very knowledgeable estate attorney, plus he is full of integrity and enjoyable to work with. He can explain the complicated ins and outs of estate issues in plain language. His office is in downtown Oakland and his phone is 444-0800. anon

Peter Shelton is an excellent wills & trusts attorney near Berkeley. You can reach him at 510.394.5483. His website: Good luck. CO

Try calling Rachel D. Ginsburg at (510) 835-5568 She is located at 1970 Broadway, in Oakland. She is a very good and trustworthy lawyer. If she cannot help you, she will refer you to someone who can. Good Luck! Ellen

We like Justin Martello of Effective Assets. He's smart and easy going, not sales-y. His office is by Peet's in North Berkeley. justin [at] SP in Berkeley

Good Estate Planning attorney in Oakland?

Aug 2011

Good Estate Planning attorney in Oakland? Wondering

Michael Perna (510-834-2822) in Oakland did our estate planning, and we were very happy with the results. He was a good listener, never pushy or impatient, had many terrific suggestions, and ultimately helped us craft a plan that is a perfect fit for what I consider our family's unusual and complicated circumstances. His fees were quite reasonable. He was also generous with his time up front and over the phone. He also does general law, although I gather not criminal or divorce cases. ~A Kensington Family

I recommend Doris Mitchell in Oakland. She is smart, well educated (a master's degree in tax), and easy to work with. Her telephone is 510-684-6372. Pam

An excellent estate planning attorney in Oakland is Richard Lee, (510) 272-0200 x304. Very smart, honest and easy to talk to. He's the best. Larry L

I highly recommend Howard D. Neal of Neal & Associates Attorneys in Montclair Village. He is professional, knowledgeable and his fees are reasonable. He can be reached at 510-339-0233. mr

We have used the services of attorney Jocelyn Wong-Rolle on numerous occassions for our living trust and for my elderly mother's estate planning. Jocelyn was very professional and knowledgeable about how to go about making our living trust and helping me with many unknown questions for my elderly mother and her estate planning. She is friendly and quick with her work. She was diligent yet she expidited our requests as our time was limited. I would recommend her to anyone in need of a competent estate planning attorney. I can't say enough good things about her. Jocelyn Wong-Rolle Attorney at Law 510 482-1034 phone 510 590-9476 FAX ''Personalized Estate Planning Services for People with small to moderate sized Estates'' Wills, Revocable Grantor Trusts, Powers of Attorney Good luck, Carmen Jimenez-Smith Signed: Carmen

We have had a great experience with Kathleen Hunt ( Unique Law ). kathleenhunt [at] She was on time, pleasant to work with , and efficient in preparing all our Estate Planning. We recommend her highly. Happy customer

Estate lawyer - ward of state issue

July 2011

My elderly mother and her 89 y.o. domestic partner have a revocable trust but are unsure if it will protect their assets in the event my mother survives her partner. Complicating this is my mother's partner's disabled child - a longtime ward of the State of California. I'm looking for an estate attorney w/experience dealing w/ward of the State issues to review the trust and make necessary changes. Thank you in advance. anon

Contact attorney Julia Wald in San Rafael, who specializes in estate law and conservatorship law ,and takes great pride in her representation of conservatees and family members who wish to create a conservatorship for a loved one 415-482-7555 (say hello from me... Merry

My husband and I just started working with an Estate Attorney, William Bachrach, in Oakland, 510-465-1906. A friend recommended him and we are very pleased with him. Professional, very experienced and easy to talk to, none of the lawyer mumbo-jumbo. I'm not sure if he deals with ward issues but you could give him a call and ask. Good luck. Reva

Seeking attorney for family trust/will

June 2011

I'm looking for an attorney to handle our will, trust, and guardianship matters for our children. Seems like a simple request, but the first attorney's work was remarkably sloppy, and the second attorney wouldn't even return my calls and never performed the work asked. Someone trustworthy, who actually performs good work and communicates. Thanks! Anon

I worked with Reece Halpern in a smaller firm in Albany. His office is near the little French bistro above San Pablo on Solano Ave. He did an excellent job on my trust, will, living will, etc. He also saved me money and time by sending copies of the documents via email so I could read them over and suggest changes or clarifications at my leisure. Friendly guy who is efficient and gets the job done right. coco

I highly recommend using Attorney Peter Shelton for estate planning matters. He does great work, is extremely reliable and is very easy to work with. You can reach him at: 510-394-5483 or Peter [at] AJO

Any of the attorneys at Roisman Henel in Oakland are outstanding and responsive. Their phone number is (510) 466-6000. anon

Metlaw attorney for estate planning

June 2011

My partner and I are finally getting around to doing some estate planning. He has legal insurance through work, so we are looking at attorneys who provide services through the MetLaw program. Has anyone ever worked with one of the following attorneys for estate planning before? Specifically, we need to revise my partner's already-existing living trust and possibly set up one for me as well. And we need to make arrangements for designating a guardian for our kids should we both die before they're 18. Many thanks! A Rockridge Mom

We worked with Hale Kronenberg for our estate planning (we also had a legal plan through spouse's work). We found him to be knowledgeable and he made the process easy. We even brought our toddler to the appointment and it was no problem. I don't have any complaints. Got that off my to-do list!

We used Sara Diamond for our estate planning and she was great. Had a consultation by phone and email where she laid out everything we needed to bring to the in person meeting. First meeting we walked through all of our assets and how to divide them, who would be executor, who would serve as guardians to our kids, as well as power of attorney, etc. She had the draft docs done in days and we had the final docs executed about 2 weeks after we started. She was clear, concise, gave thoughtful advice, and best of all it was totally covered by our legal insurance. I happily recommend Sara to you. glad to have an estate plan now

Estate Lawyer recommendation

May 2011

Need a recommendation for an Estate lawyer that handles family trusts and revocable/irrevocable trusts. d.

Michael Ferguson, Ferguson and Berland, 1816 Fifth Street, Berkeley. Mike Ferguson has been doing estate planning in Berkeley / Oakland for decades and is very knowledgeable. I am an attorney myself, in a different field of law, but know that many attorneys go to him for their estate planning and related issues. You can also ask for referrals from the Alameda County Bar Association. berkeley lawyer

Richard Lee has been an estate attorney for a few decades. He is really straight-forward and caring with his clients. He makes very sure that you address all important issues, like what happens to your children in the event that both parents were unable to care for them. I felt like he really listened to us and followed what we were needing in our estate plan. I also have known of numerous others that have been his client and been very satisfied. The first consultation has no charge. He can be reached at: 510-272-0200. Good Luck! Leah

Hi, I recently worked with Kathleen Hunt kathleenhunt [at], tel 510-289-2288. She is professional, does a great job of explaining the law and has reasonable rates. I highly recommend her. Salomeh

We recently asked Kathleen Hunt (510.289.2288, kathleenhunt [at] to prepare a revocable family trust, wills, and durable powers of attorney, which she prepared at a flat rate. We liked her responsiveness to our questions (we had many), her willingness to come to us, i.e., house calls, and her general approach of helping us, and her expressed willingness to help our children or survivors, carry out our wishes with respect to our wills and trust. She was especially helpful on the ''What do we do next?'' questions. Don

We just had Peter Shelton complete our estate plan. He really understands estate planning and how to advise parents with kids on some of the issues you might not think of. He gave us great advice on choosing trustees and guardians. His service is amazing -- he'll come to your home or office if necessary, he gives you a CD with all your documents, and he gives you a year of follow up service as part of the price. On top of that, as parents, we are so relieved to have completed our plan. You can reach Peter at 510.394.5483 or check out Kristin

To whoever was looking for a great estate planning lawyer, I'd like to recommend Reece Halpern in Albany. He's been doing this forever and is a genuinely nice guy. fan of reece halpern

Lawyer for living trust

Feb 2011

I am looking for someone to do a living trust for myself. I have two young children and I am a single parent, so it might be more complicated (?). I would love recommendations of lawyers who have a lot of experience with single/separated parents. Preferably near Oakland, but really anywhere in East Bay is fine if the person is good. Also, if anyone can share about how much it cost them to do a living trust, and how much it typically costs for an update (ballpark). Thank you in advance. anon

I would like to recommend Tova Zeff, JD as your living trust attorney. Tova prepared a will for my neighbors. As official witness, I saw the thoroughness and seriousness Tova took in preparing, presenting and delivering the documents. My neighbors were delighted with the process and felt well taken care of. Her number is 510-593-8393 and tovazeff [at] Anon

I'd like to recommend Cassandra Massey. Her office is in Alameda. Here's her website: y/index.html Helen

Scott Pesetsky of Smart Wills did a will, power of attorney, and advanced health directive for my husband and I. We would highly recommend him. He was professional, his rates were great, and the process was baby friendly. We were able to bring our 3 month old son with us and were in and out in about 2 hours. If you want to go with someone you can trust, go with Scott. He is a parent himself and caters to busy parents who want to be responsible. e-mail me if you have questions. Katie

Philip Batchelder is a trust and estates lawyer and very knowledgeable. He's also a very caring, highly principled attorney that will make sure that you are selecting the best option in your situation. Contact him at: Mitchell & Courts 1001 Marina Village Pkway #400 Alameda CA 94501 (510) 523-5272 philipb [at] Joyce K.

2005 - 2010 Recommendations

Dec 2010


Wills and Estate Planning

I am thinking of using attorney Scott Pesetsky on Telegraph to draw up wills and trusts and help with estate planning. Anybody have experience with him? I would like to read positive or negative reviews. Thanks. anon

Great Estate Planning Attorney: Richard Lee of Lee and Lawless, in Embarcadero area of Oakland 510.272.0200.or rjl [at] Mature, experienced, sensible, thorough, confidence-inspiring Peter

I may have responded earlier, but just wanted to recommend Scott Pesetsky. He helped my husband and I with our will, power of attorney and health directive. He took an otherwise daunting task and walked us through the steps in the most easy and helpful way possible. He was flexible with planning and meeting time, and held a baby friendly session which was great because we brought our 3 month old. We were in and out in a few hours and now we have the peace of mind that our affairs are in order in the event of an unforeseen tragedy. I am so happy we worked with Scott and will be recommending him to all my friends, particularly new parents. Feel free to e-mail me if you have more questions. kth

Oct 2010


Kids now, need to set up a will

With two small children now, it becomes clear that my husband and I need to set up guardianship for them in the sorry event that something unfortunate happens to us. Can someone recommend which is the best avenue to follow so that our children would be cared for by the person we designate and that our property, bank accounts, and stocks would go to use for our children's care?

What happens if we do nothing? Is a will sufficient? Must we set up a trust? My partner is from another country and is aghast at the cost of lawyers fees to set up a trust. Many thanks for any insight you can provide about your experiences. Baffled about estate planning

My husband is also a foreign national with a green card which creates a special set of circumstances regarding estate planning (the govt treats non-US spouses like any other relative and not like a spouse if you die which means inheritance taxes for him above a certain, constantly changing threshold). We just finished ours and it was a huge hassle but I think well worth the time. If you do nothing then everything goes to probate court to decide which may or may not be a good thing for your kids (e.g. they could be split up amongst family members, etc.) So it's much better that you say what should happen. I'm sure there are some NOLO books on this but I'd use a lawyer if I were you. They've seen all scenarios and will ask you all sorts of ''what if...'' questions that you'll never think of on your own. Ours cost about $2500 to do the whole thing I think. Planned

We highly recommend Kimberly Spears of She came over to our house to do all of the paperwork and meetings and it took about a month, maybe less, to get everything in order (you also have to do some legwork, giving her your end of the paperwork). You can contact her at: kimberley [at] She has helped many families whom I know. maria

Most Estate Planning attorneys will provide a free initial consultation. A partner being from another country adds an element of complexity such that I'd urge you not to use a We The People type forms service. Depending upon your assets Wills may be sufficient. Shop around a little and you will find an experienced EP attorney who is reasonably priced - in this economy you can find a bargain on such services. Just be sure to check for a State Bar license and malpractice insurance.

Hello there, I am an estate planning lawyer (see in the Bay Area. This can be a confusing issue for people. The general idea is that if you have the type of assets that would go through probate (real estate, brokerage accounts, savings), then you generally want to hold your assets in a revocable living trust. If you have only non-probate assets (retirement accounts, life insurance), then you can use a will only. If you work with a lawyer to create a will (as opposed to doing it yourself), you can set up a trust for your children that would be created only at the death of both parents to manage these non-probate assets. If you are creating a revocable living trust, then the future trust for children is part of those documents. As part of your estate planning (either with a trust and its associated ''pour-over'' will or with a freestanding will), you would name guardians for your children. If you don't want to work with a lawyer at all and want to create a will (although not one that creates a children's trust) you might consider using software from Nolo Press (, which is very reputable.

If you do nothing, then your probate assets go through probate before passing to your children, a process that can take 18 to 24 months for an uncontested estate. In addition, your estate pays probate fees which are based on the fair market value of your probate assets. If you have a taxable estate (enough value to be subject to federal estate taxes) and you do nothing and one spouse dies before the other, you lose that spouse's right to pass money tax free at the death of the second spouse. And, finally, if you do nothing, then your family and a judge decide who should be guardians of your kids. This is a very general answer to your question, and I would be happy to discuss your situation with you by phone at no charge. K

Oct 2010


Estate Planning for my mother

My husband and I are seeking advice on two things. First, the best way to transfer my mothers money into our name, and second, we are looking for a great estate planner for this tricky situation. The first question : My mother owns a home out of state. She will be selling it, moving to Calfornia, and she wants to transfer all of her money into our names. We then will turn around and purchase a house for her in our name, and we will be putting a bit more into the house (since houses are more here). The title/ the house etc will be my husband and mine. Reason we want to do it this way is for medicare/medicaid purposes. My mom does not have any money but the money in her house. My question is, what is the best way to do this, gifting, taxes etc? We were advised about her giving us a loan at a small interest rate, and then over the years we would pay it back, however she can't have income like this or she will lose her health care. She is disabled and on disability so its really tricky. This will be a second home for us, we currently live in our first home. My husband and I plan on taking care of her, and keeping the house up to date so she has a safe place. I am looking for people who have been through this before, and any suggestions are really helpful. Who is the right type of person to draw up all of this information, is it a lawyer, an estate planner, my accountant? Any advice soon would be really welcome. thank you! Lilly

Go to an estate attorney (you can have that person work with your CPA). Here is a great one, highly competent, super-easy to work with: ___ from her website: ''... she was recognized by Goldline Research in the December 28, 2009 issue of Forbes magazine as a leading provider of estate planning and probate legal services in California.

You probably should disregard any advice you get here - except for the recommendations for estate planning/elder lawyers. I just put my father on Medicaid. They have a 60- month (5-year) look back, so if she is transferring/giving you assests, you all need to hope she stays healthy for 5 years. They will look to you to pay for her care (up to the value of the assests she gave you). anon

Between gifting and/or loan strategies to transfer her assets, and MediCal's 3-year look back rule, You'll definitely want an estate planning attorney. Pam Ty of Protec-Law in Walnut Creek is excellent. I've known her for several years, used her for my own trust, and have got great feedback from the people I have referred to her. Her number is 925-262-8238 cess

A recent post mentioned an attorney as having been ''recognized by Goldline Reseach in the December 28, 2009 issue of Forbes magazine as a leading provider of estate planning and probate legal services in California.'' Without meaning any disrespect whatsoever to that attorney, I just wanted to point out that Goldline Research is essentially a marketing and promotion firm; businesses pay several thousand dollars (usually $3000 - $10,000, depending on the industry) to be listed as a ''leading provider'' of whatever service they provide. Goldline then pays to publish a ''guide'' to these ''leading providers'' in various national magazines. Other people might call the ''guide'' a full-page advertisement, but Goldline is not that honest about its mission.

Personally, I knew none of this when I was contacted by Goldline myself, a year or two ago. I was excited that I'd been identified as a ''leading provider'' in my industry . . . until I was asked to sign a contract obliging me to spend over $5000 to be identified as such. That was the end of my brief contact with the company. You can Google ''Goldline Research scam'' yourself, and see what you think.

This is just a heads-up to the BPN community about the true value of a Goldline Research testimonial. learned to be skeptical

Atty for house left with no will & a mortgage?

Sept 2010

When my husband's mother died seven years ago, she left behind a home, with a mortgage still on it, and no will. It was a joint mortgage, and was also in her ex-husband's name(my father-in-law.) My father-in-law was not living in the house and signed over (quitclaim deeded) the deed to my husband and five of his seven siblings. (Two did not want to be involved.) My father-in-law died two years ago. Over the past seven years, the home has been occupied by various siblings, who have paid the mortgage, but the home has fallen in to great disrepair. Of course, now the drama has really set in. The current sibling living in the home wants out, and there are a couple of siblings who feel that they have the right to pass through living there whenever they want, even though they contribute nothing toward the mortgage, etc. Here's the kicker: the mortgage company does not know that the owners of the mortgage are dead. This issue needs to be resolved. We don't know where to begin. It would be great to sell it (In this market?) and split any profits. It was also be great if the home could be used as a residence for their mentally ill family member who cannot live alone. Ideally, we'd love for the home to stay in the family, but there is one sibling who refuses to agree to anything reasonable. We don't know where to begin. I figure we need an attorney, but I don't know what kind, or who? All siblings except for one (who happens to be the custodian of the mentally-ill sibling, so I guess she has two votes) are reasonable and can work together...We need to work around the criminal. Please help! One house + lots of kids = Too Much Drama

Approximately 2/3 of my law practice is devoted to estate planning, probate matters, and trust administration. Based on the information in your question it appears to me that a probate of your mother-in-law's share of the house may be inevitable. Under California law, attorney fees in a probate are based on the gross value of the assets and the attorney handling the probate does not get paid until the end of the probate proceeding. Therefore, it is important that your spouse select an experienced attorney he trusts since the fee will be the same regardless of whom he decides to work with.

Since the mother left a will, and there are assets you will need a probate lawyer. As far as the mortgage is concerned, as long as the payments are being made, the lender accepts the money without looking further. There are considerations, of course, of homeowners insurance and taxes. Lynn

You are correct, you need an attorney to help you straighten this out. The attorney should be familiar with probate court procedures, as your husband and his siblings may need to petition the probate court to solve this problem. Generally, estate planning attorneys do the most work in probate court. You *may* be able to have a local title company assist you, but from what you've described, you'll probably end up with an attorney anyway. I am an estate planning attorney with knowledge about the local probate courts. Peter

You need to contact a will and trust or probate attorney. When a decedent's estate has property worth more than $100,000 the estate must go through probate. When there is no will(s) the probate code determines how the estate is divided. One family member would petition to be the Administrator of the estate. The probate code determines the fees that the Administrator and Attorney are entitled to for handling the estate(s). If the house is the only asset then it will most likely have to be sold. kyle

Attorney specializing financial & estate planning

Mar 2010

Hi, We are looking for a highly-rated and experienced attorney who has the combined skills of wealth management and estate planning. We would like to set up a will/living trust for our one- year old child, taking into account various aspects of tax- implications of inter-generational transfer (e.g., capital gains tax, trust funds, etc). Ideally, this person should be well-versed in estate law, tax law, and various financial investment vehicles. It would be a plus, if he/she is a fee-based financial planner/wealth manager. Thanks! anon

We just finished our estate planning with Reece Halpern. I was so impressed with how thorough and patient he is. He answered any and all our questions and then some. He gives a free 1.5hr consultation. You fill out his questionnaire, meet, he goes though all logistics and answers any questions you have. No money changes hands till you decide to have him start writing up your document. He is conveniently located in Albany on lower Solano Ave. You can reach him at 510-527-4337 and check him out at Good Luck! Alexis

My attorney for 20 years is Richard Lee, 510 272 0200. He can help you with estate planning and document preparation. Although he does not personally do wealth management he does have colleagues who do. He has a tax attorney in his office and works closely with wealth managers. stu

Kathleen Hunt (510-289-2288) is amazing. She was so helpful in our estate planning/living will. She was able to meet on weekends at our home and answered a million questions with ease. Highly recommend. Ricki A.

Pam Ty, Protec-Law is exceptional. 925-262-8238 She does not manage assets, but I personally prefer to have my legal, tax, and wealth management handled separately. Having one person fill two of those roles leaves too much open to conflict of interest, in my opinion. Also, having three advisors both confirms strategies and recommendations, and provides opportunities to discover new strategies that I can bounce off the other advisors. -Greg

Feb 2010


Attorney to update a living trust

Can someone please post a recommendation for an attorney in the West Contra Costa area or Berkeley that is reasonable and does a good job in updating a living trust. I see a lot of older posts but would like some updated info if you have had a will or living trust done recently and how much I might expect to pay for a simple will or living trust.

Paula Leibovitz in Orinda does excellent first class work. She is not the least expensive but she really knows the field and will make a trust for you rather than make you fit into a trust. The least expensive places usually have a one size fits all trust - and these can be a problem many years down the road. In some things it is better to pay more and get and expert. She has worked on several trusts for me, and she is very competent. I have seen several very poorly writen trusts by other lawyers, and they have been problems later. 925-253-1136 Francis

I recommend Kathryn Korn, based in Orinda: Kathryn S. Korn, Esq. 93 Moraga Way Suite 101 Orinda, CA 94563 (925)253-1136 x 14 The price you'll pay will depend on what you want your will/trust to accomplish and your particular situation (dependents, property, bank accounts, etc.) Make a list of those things and what you want your trust/will to accomplish. Then you can call around to get an estimate. LK

Wills,Trusts,Estates lawyer in Berkeley or Lamorinda

Jan 2010

I would love the name of a Wills,Trusts,Estates lawyer in Berkeley or Lamorinda area. I'm a new homeowner, have a 9- month old daughter and will probably be getting married in the next year or so. I'm really at a loss as to what I'm supposed to be doing at this point to protect my daughter. Any information would be useful. Gwenyth

Kathryn S. Korn, Esq. 93 Moraga Way Suite 101 Orinda, CA 94563 (925)253-1136 x 14

Kathryn has handled some very complex legal matters relating to trust/estate issues for our family. She can explain in lay-person terms what you might want and what it will cost. I've referred several people who've been happy with her.

Re fees: I believe hers are average, but you should call around to find out what the current rate is. All I can tell you (based on experience) is that the best value is not necessarily the cheapest. Find someone you'd feel comfortable working with under difficult circumstances, and make sure he/she is competent, because bad legal advice always winds up being very, very expensive. LK

Experience in trusts and capital gains taxes

Jan 2010

I have reviewed a number of old postings, but still not quite sure if I found what we need. We are faced with making big decisions about my mother's SF home, who is now in a nursing home. The more we learn, the more we are overwhelmed. We have come to learn about the little thing called 'capital gain tax', of which seems to vary depending on the type of trust, cost of home, etc. Unfortunately, we employed a tax accountant/attorney in SF for basic advise, but don't feel much more educated or confident in his advise (for a variety of reasons which I will spare you). We may need to pay, once again, for someone REALLY experienced in trusts, capital gains taxes, and advise about selling vs. renting out the house. I probably need someone who can really hold my hand and explain very simply this complicated issue. East Bay ideal but not necessary, San Leandro to Berkeley. thanks, Baffled and Confused

I highly recommend the firm Jewel and Stoneman in SF. Woman owned and operated, smart, reliable attorneys who know their stuff but are also extremely kind and down-to- earth and will take the time to explain and be certain you understand (both have extensive experience teaching seminars on estate planning, trusts etc, which means they really know how to translate this somewhat complicated area of the law for the lay person). Stephanie

For anything related to estate planning, wills, trusts, probate law, I would call:

Heather Tremain 510-835-8090 Heather [at]

Very approachable, a great ''bedside'' manner, but most importantly, excellent at what she does. She saved many thousands of dollars for my father-in-law's estate. I've met her, experienced her work, seen her talk to a group, answer questions one-on-one. When I re-do my living trust, I'm going straight to her.

At a Q session Heather held recently, I asked a question about retaining the tax basis when inheriting a property that will be split among beneficiaries: Heather immediately responded with some very specific language that needs to be in the trust. When I checked with my mum's trust, her attorney had not put that language in.

Heather gives you all the docs electronically as well as on paper, and shows you how to work with the materials, e.g., sometimes I've needed to remove and re-enter property from and back into my trust; that's been problematic for me because the attorney who set up my current living trust didn't tell me how to do that - just told me to call him whenever I needed it done (an expensive proposition for something that I know is simple but must be done correctly).

**BTW, Heather is on a shortlist by Goldline Research as a 2009 Leading Attorney in California; you can see that in the current issue of Forbes. Jessica B

Dec 2009

Hello. Would someone have a recommendation for a dependable and reasonably priced attorney that specializes in the preparation of wills? My wife and I would love to find someone who is approachable, easy to work with and has a strength in this area. Many thanks as always for any advice or suggestions! Fred

I don't know exactly what you mean by solid & reasonable, but I find Conswella Byrd charming experienced and dedicated to her work. She's also easy to get to as she validates parking in downtown Oakland. anon

I relocated here from Boston and needed to have my will/estate planning documents redrafted. After reading reviews on the BPN I contacted Kathleen Hunt, an attorney from Unique Law (510-289-2288). Kathleen came to my house for our first meeting. She was very personable, direct, and knowledgable. She reviewed my documents, pointed out the required changes, and made insightful recommendations. Her fee was very reasonable and the final document completed within a week. She included a checklist of items for me to complete. I cant recommend her highly enough. Cynthia

We recommend Jocelyn Wong-Rolle for trusts, wills, and estate planning. Jocelyn was down to earth and easy to talk with. She was patient in explaining to us things about the trust that we didn't understand. During our decision making process, she gave us guidance and issues to consider depending on how we wanted to handle guardianship, appointment of trustees, etc. so that we would be able to make the best decision for our family. She gave us great advice throughout the whole process. She is also flexible with her schedule, and even offered to meet at our home because we have young children to take care of (although we didn't need her to come to our home, it was nice of her to offer). Jocelyn made the process very easy for us. She accepts ARAG legal insurance as well. You can contact her at wongrolle [at]

Dec 2009

Now that we have a daughter, husband and I want to establish a living trust. Can you recommend a lawyer who can help us do this? In Alameda would be great. anon

Richard Lee at Lee and Lawless is superb at helping people with trusts. I hope he can help you with yours. He worked with my family and we were extremely happy with his services. He was very clear and level-headed. I have also known many other people that have used his services and give him glowing reviews. His phone number is: 510-272-0200. Good Luck!

He's in Walnut Creek, but I recommend Elliot Abrams to put together a living trust. I took a class from him at Piedmont Adult School and would use him if I wanted to use a lawyer(I did my own living trust using the Nolo books. His phone is 925 947 1333. anon

I used Pam Ty of Protec-Law for my own living trust and have recommended her to a number of people, all of whom have given me excellent feedback. She's in Walnut Creek. Her phone is 925-262-8238. Greg

I highly recommend Kathleen Hunt who operates independently in the East Bay. She's very knowledgeable, friendly and helpful and even comes to your home to meet with you. She wrote a living trust as well as wills for us and made the whole process easy and surprisingly affordable. Her phone is 510-289-2288 and email is kathleenhunt [at] Anne

Hi - I had my living trust, will, and health directives prepared by Kathleen Hunt at Unique Law in El Cerrito. She was extremely helpful, sensitive, and understanding. Kathleen walked me through the steps and tailored her advice to my particular situation. She never asked me to come to her office, and she even dropped by to pick up copies I had made of the signed documents. I highly recommend her. She can be reached by at 510-289-2288 or kathleenhunt [at] Howard

I strongly recommend Reece Halpern on Solano Ave., Albany. He did a great job for me and it was very reasonably priced. His number is 510-527-4337. We also did a Living Will and Power of Attorney while we were at it. kl

I recommend my attorney Joel H. Tranter at 510.292.0907.

Dec 2009

I apologize in advance if this is duplicating a question answered in a previous newsletter, but I could not find it! I'm trying to find an attorney who can help us set up a will and a living trust. My husband is a citizen, I am a permanent resident. I need to find somebody with plenty of experience with this tricky subject, since it involves special trusts to make up for not receiving a martital deduction as a non-citizen. Many thanks! trying to be tax-savvy

I absolutely recommend Pam Ty, Protec Law in Walnut Creek. My wife is a permanent resident also. Pam was very thorough, covered the details, and helped us understand it. 925-262-8238 cessnagreg

October 2009

We need an attorney to do some estate planning for us. We are located in West Contra Costa County but would be okay driving to the right person. Thanks Andrea

We are using Conswella Byrd, who is very knowledgable as well as warm and thoughtful. She gave me some excellent advice on a tricky legal question, and is handling our will and trust. She has a nursing background, so knows a lot about some of the things we (or our parents) might be facing. In case you aren't sure, she offers a free half hour consultation. Her office is near BART in Oakland, and worth the short trip (we are in West Contra Costa too) You can call her at 510 645-1501. Pat

I can highly recommend any of the fabulous attorneys at Roismann & Henel, located at 1999 Harrison St., in Oakland. I practice family law, a field which often triggers the need for estate planning services, and every client I have sent to Caroline Henel, Anne Nash, or the RH firm in general has been very well-served. Good luck! LeAnn

We used Rick Collari in Danville a few years ago. He did a good job and follows up with us each year. His contact information is: Richard L. Collari Jr. Attorney-at-Law 4115 Blackhawk Plaza Circle, Suite 100 Danville, California 94506 Telephone: (925) 648-2043 Facsimile: (925) 648-2045

Kathryn Korn 93 Moraga Way Suite 101 Orinda, CA 94563 Work: (925)253-1136 x 14 Kathryn is an excellent estate and family law attorney who has helped my family through some very very difficult legal situations. Personable and conscientious. We were referred to her by a friend, and I've referred several friends who've also reported good experiences. Laura K.

I would suggest Conswella Byrd, Esq. She is extremely professional, detailed oriented, AND has a very warm and welcoming smile. Not usual for this type of work, I think. She did my Health Care Directive.

September 2009

I recently did estate planning and created a living trust, will, and powers of attorney for both financial and health care with a great lawyer, Sara Diamond, Ph.D. She was very helpful, answered all my many questions patiently and made the whole daunting process quite simple and understandable. I used the UC Berkeley Legal Plan which covered the fees, but I believe she is quite reasonable if you don't have a plan. She can be reached at: or 510-548-4844 Her office is convenient in downtown Berkeley. Se Habla Espanol. I highly recommend her. Jan

I really like Elliot Abrams in WC. I took a class from him on setting up a living trust and would go to him for any estate questions. 2033 N. Main #750, 925 947 1333. anon

June 2009

I'm looking for a referral to basic will / living trust service for family with child, especially in Berkeley or Oakland.

We used Kathleen Hunt and she was great. She'll come out to your house, which is quite nice. kathleenhunt [at] 510-289-2288

March 2009

I'm looking for a lawyer to help with a will and estate planning. I've never done either of these before, so I'm looking for someone who's honest and patient and who won't cost an arm and a leg. I live in the Walnut Creek area but am willing to go a little further out (meaning Berkeley or Oakland) if you've got a GREAT one you'd recommend. Thanks Sherry

My husband and I recently went to Sara Diamond in the Wells Fargo Building on Shattuck. She was a pleasure to deal with. She said she has done hundreds of estates. She was easy to understand, explained everything, and presented us with a very nice binder with all of our paperwork and instructions at the end. After the initial visit, I dealt with questions by email and then we had one more visit for signing/notarizing. She made the process as painless as it could possibly be. 510-548-4844. Barbara

I swear by Michael Ferguson on 5th Street in Berkeley (510.548.9005), who did our living trust/wills, but closer to you is Mark Frisbie in Walnut Creek (925.947.1714), who handled my aunt's estate, and, as her trustee, I was very pleased with his work. Either will schedule an initial no-charge appointment and let you know up front what the fees will be. Norm

For a variety of reasons, I think it's best to have an estate planning attorney who is familiar with your particular county (Contra Costa). Kathryn Korn did outstanding estate planning (under very difficult circumstances) for my family. I've referred several people to her, all of whom have been very pleased. I think you will be, too. She works in Orinda. Kathryn Korn, Esq. 93 Moraga Way Suite 101 Orinda, CA 94563 Work (925)253-1136 x 14

I can highly recommend Gigi Orta (gigi [at] many of my friends have used her and she is extremely good at estate and will planning with eleven years experience. Very bright, capable and easy to work with. Laura

To the person looking for estate planning services in Walnut Creek: I just finished working with Nicole Davidson, a solo practitioner in Alamo, in order to prepare a revocable trust. She was absolutely terrific -- turning a process that I thought would be painful and drawn out into an easy one. She carefully answered my many questions, and came up with some good solutions to some knotty estate problems. You can find her contact info on her website: Christine

We did our wills/living trust with Walnut Creek attorney Kirsten Howe ( last year on the recommendation of a friend and she was great to work with -- good about explaining things and answering our questions, easy-going, sense of humor. Her costs, while not low, seemed to be comparable to what others charged. And she gave us the option of saving quite a bit by doing some of the legwork of funding the trust ourselves, and gave us good instructions for how to do it. Happy Customer

I would like to recommend Chastity Schults who is an estate planning attorney in Walnut Creek. She works in the law offices of Youngman, Ericsson and Low. She can be reached at 925.930-6000, e-mail cschults [at] and her website is She is knowledgable, professional and approachable. marika

Pam Ty of Protec-Law in Walnut Creek is superb. She prepared my trust and I have sent several people to her - all have told me that they were extremely pleased. Her number is 925-262-8238. cessnagreg

Jan 2009

Hello, We are looking for a recommendation for a straightforward, honest attorney (or legal advice web site?) for some estate / will questions. Also, does anyone know where to download a truly free legal form re: will codicil? Close to Berkeley is preferred. Any lawyer(s) you would *not* recommend? Thanks.

Yes, Heather Tremain here in Oakland. I know her work is the best and many friends also can give a great testimonial for her services of trusts, wills, healthcare documents: Heather Tremain, Esq., @ Tremain & Hoffman, LLP, 1814 Franklin St. Suite 800, Oakland, CA 94612. Phone (510) 835-3090 Fax (510) 835-1050 and her email: Heather [at] Heather offers such an outstanding combination of a smart professional, easy to work with legal expert in this area of the law and the clear sincerity one seeks in personal and legal matters. Louise

When I had my Trust and Will prepared, I went with Kathleen A. Hunt and was very pleased. Kathleen is thorough, intelligent, and has no trouble explaining things more than once. I appreciated her services, attention to detail and promptness She even came to my home for our business appointment.Her fee seemed to be the standard which was more than fair. She can be reached by telephone at 510-289-2288 or kathleenhunt [at]

Pam Ty, Protec-Law, is excellent. She prepared my trust and I have sent several people to her - all have told me that they were extremely pleased. Her number is 925-262-8238. Greg

We did our wills and trust with Kathleen Hunt of Unique Law a few months ago. Her phone is 510.289.2288 and her email is: kathleenhunt [at] She was attentive to our needs, seemed knowledgable, was patient and thorough with explanations, and followed through in a timely fashion. We would definitely recommend her. Janet

We recommend Sara Diamond on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley. She specifically deals with wills, estates and trusts and is friendly and experienced. She did an excellent job helping us set up our wills and trust. Her website is Satisfied customers

Lynn H Phan is a wonderful Estate Will Attorney. Lynn is extremely knowledgeable, personable, professional and extremely honest. Bottom line, Lynn is a really good person! It was a pleasure working with her. I recommended her to really good friends of my family and they loved her so much they had her over for dinner! Please contact her, you will be so happy you did! Lynn H Phan 1316 67th Street Emeryville, CA 94608 510.597.1397 lynn [at]

Dec 2008

Can anyone recommend a thorough attorney that can help us set up appointment of a legal guardian for our young son, should we both die? panicked mom

Reece Halpern did all of my estate planning, designating guardians, etc. Was very impressed with his work and it was a reasonable price. 1320 Solano Avenue, Suite 203 Albany, CA 94706 Phone: 510-527-4337 Website: kl

I want to recommend Marianne Malveaux, an attorney who specializes in Estate Planning and administration. She knows her stuff ? and she has real expertise in the financial side of things as well. Give Marianne a call at 524.7655 or email her at cfamalveaux [at] David

Sept 2008

Can anyone recommend an attorney who takes UC legal insurance to do our will/set up a trust? This is one of those straightforward, necessary things in life that we haven't done because we don't have good future guardianship for our children. Has anyone ever set up their will with this same issue at hand? It seems irresponsible to not set our legal documents in order, but the issue of who would care for our kids is really worrisome for me. Any advice or attorney recommendations? -anon.

We (and many people we know) have had our wills and trusts and guardianship papers drawn up by a terrific, sensitive, reasonable attorney by the name of Gloria Park. She can be reached at 510-769-8300 or gloriapark [at] Ted

See probate expert and very kind attorney Duane Leonard, 1936 University Ave # 380 Berkeley, CA 94704, (510) 843-2321. (Tell him hi from Merry.)

Reece Halpern at 1320 Solano Ave. did a great job setting up a Living Trust and Will for me. Reasonable rates. 510 527-4337 kathryn

June 2008

Has anybody worked with attorney Greg Brockbank from Marin County to draw up a Living Trust? Anon

I haven't used Greg Brockbank, but I can recommend Kathleen Hunt (510-289-2288) instead.

I first hired Kathleen to help my siblings and myself out in a messy Estate/Probate case. She delivered such positive results with the Estate case that my husband and I moved forward with hiring her services again, but for putting our Trust together. Kathleen was very thorough in this process. You can tell when you first meet Kathleen that she is exceptionally ''results driven''. I am a very busy Technical Consultant working globally with demanding clients; Kathleen made it very easy for us to get together by meeting with me at my home in the evenings and on the weekends. Kathleen is a very delightful person and a pleasure to do business with and her rates are very reasonable. Marty

Jan 2008

Hi, My husband's mother is suffering from early-stage Alzheimers and she lives in MD and we are trying to bring her out to CA and obtain legal guardianship. We are looking for an attorney who can answer our questions and help us to get her into a good care facility. Thank you. Jan

Dear Jan, My husband, a local attorney, says you need to find an attorney where your mother-in-law mother resides. Perhaps the bar association in her area can give you a recommendation. Take care. Anna

Attorney Julia Wald is a specialist in working with clients who make the difficult decision to institute a guardianship or Conservatorship if a loved one has lost the ability to manage his or her own care. She is certified in probate, estate planning and trust law, and best of all, she is really nice, talks English (rather than legalese), and helps clients discover how to work in the best interest of those who need care. It's worth the short trip to San Rafael to confer with her. You can reach attorney Julia Wald at 415-482-7555. Merry

Oct 2007

My husband and I recently moved to Berkeley and are expecting our first child. We would like to start a living trust and need reliable and reasonable lawyer in the Berkeley area. Thank you for suggestions in advance. getting our assests in order.

I can very highly recommend Susan Jewel at the firm Jewel and Stoneman in San Francisco ( She did our trust right after our daughter was born, and she was very thorough and helpful. She is a really nice, funny person, was patient about answering my endless questions (I know nothing about the law but like to have everything explained to me), and obviously knows her stuff (covered not just the trust but medical powers of attorney, financial powers of attorney, all that stuff). I commend you for doing a trust. We haven't needed it (knock wood) but it has really given us piece of mind in the five years since our daughter was born. Good luck. Stephanie

I recommend Robert Glickstein (510) 339-7700 on Clay Street in Oakland. He set up trusts for us as well as relatives and friends, and everyone has had the same good opinion of him. He's very knowledgeable, listens carefully, and his rates are reasonable. Maryl

I'd like to highly recommend George McNitt. His office is in Oakland and his phone number is 510-444-5521. He's affordable, frank about what you need to think through in order to complete a living trust and pleasant to work with. anon

When I told one of my friends I was setting up a living trust, she advised me not to spend the money -- unless I was using Reece Halpern. That was whom I already had the appointment with. He did an excellent job for a very reasonable price. He is on lower Solano Ave. I also had him do a health directive, power of attorney, etc. to get it all done at once. He was able to send me questions by email so I have them all filled in by the time I arrived, saving time and money. kl

I recommend our lawyer: Kathleen Hunt. We found her here, from another member's recommendation! She's done a great job for us with our living trust. She was very accommodating schedule-wise too, which was a huge help. She came right to our house and made the entire process a breeze. Her email address is kathleenhunt [at] Mailisha

I highly recommend Robert Glickstein, our estate attorney. He is very knowledgeable, smart, honest, and communicative. 1300 Clay St., Ste 600, Oakland. 339-7700. heidi

I wanted to let everyone know of my great experience with Reece Halpern regarding our Estate planning. An estate plan is not something anyone likes to think about but everyone should have. He seemlessly put together our family trust estate plan, powers of attorney, wills and health care directives. Reece made the whole experience easy to understand, quick and dare I say it, at a very competitive price. For a lawyer, Reece is a great guy ;) . He also does probate and small business work. He has an office on Solano, responds quickly to questions/concerns and even offers a free 1/2 hour consultation. Who said you can't get anything for free!! You can find out more from his website or give him a call at 510.527.4337. Don't wait, the future will be here tomorrow! Diane and Rob

For your living trust/will, I highly recommend Melissa Brandman. Her rates are very competitive with other attorneys in the Bay Area. She also understands how hectic schedules can be and is very flexible with meeting times/locations. Her email address is: m.brandman [at] and her phone is: 510-527-0265. Good Luck! susan

We hired Jocelyn Wong Rolle for estate planning. Jocelyn was easy to work with, conscientious, thorough, clear, and intelligent. She worked with the highest integrity and standards. She anticipated issues that will avoid a lot of trouble for us down the road. We feel secure knowing Jocelyn has handled these legal matters for us. I would highly recommend Jocelyn for your estate planning matters. She can be reached at wongrolle [at] Jamie

For all trusts/wills/family law, I strongly recommend Kathleen Hunt kathleenhunt [at] I interviewed several lawyers before finding Kathleen. She helped me think through issues that I hadn't considered, issues that the other lawyers must not have known about or cared to mention (with putting assets into the trust, the need for another attorney's involvement in drafting a post-nup, and accepting and supporting the differences between my living will's instructions and those of my husband's).

She works quickly, efficiently and often by email/IM. Her rates are very competitive and she proposed ways that I could save money by doing some tasks myself.

She even took care of managing my husband's legal representative for completing our post-nuptial (needed to get mortgage help from my family) since my husband and his lawyer couldn't get around to completing the document. a

We worked with Melissa Brandman to do our estate plan and living trust. She was great. She came to our house in the evening for a free consultation that walked us through all the information we needed to pull together and the decisions we needed to make. She explained everything clearly and her rates were reasonable. We were very happy with the whole process with her, and feel good knowing that we (FINALLY!) have a thorough will and trust in place should anything happen. Check out her website: Kelly

May 2007

Does anyone know a lawyer who could help us update our will and living trust. We would like someone who is kind, thorough, knowledgable, and does not rush you and make you feel unimportant. In alameda or close by is best. mirsun

You just perfectly described Richard Lee, who is the best estate planning attorney I've ever dealt with. His integrity, knowledge, compassion and honesty is only surpassed by his humbleness. His phone number is (510) 272-0200. He's located very close to Alameda too. E-mail: rjl[at] larry

The attorney we used to update our will and living trust is not in Alameda (she's in El Cerrito) -- but she's very reasonably priced, easy to work with, totally helpful and a good communicator -- hasn't charged us a cent for numerous follow-up questions -- responds write away to any inquiry we've sent her (either by e-mail or phone). Her name is Kathleen Hunt and her e-mail address is kathleenhunt[at] Marguerita

Diane Cash in Oakland is excellent. My husband and I are both attorneys, and we have been very pleased with her service. Anon

We highly recommend our estate planning attorney & while he's not going to be super cheap, he'll be WAY less than a realtor's commission. Richard F. Hill 1816 Fifth Street Berkeley, California 94710 510.540.0356 510.548.3143 (fax)

Feb 2007

I wanted to echo the recommendation of Kathleen Hunt as a great estate law attorney -- she helped us with our estate planning and was kind, timely, and reasonably priced -- she has also helped us with numerous follow-up questions (at no charge) in the last few months -- she is very pleasant and will accomodate to your schedule (evenings or whenever) -- you can reach her at or 510-289-2288 (she's in el cerrito). Marguerita

Jan 2007

I'm looking for someone to do fairly straightforward estate planning: simple wills, power of attorneys, etc. I also have an ILIT and may need to set up a trust as my wife is not a citizen. Most of this work (not the trust) was already done in another state, so this is primarily a matter of reviewing and updating as needed. I would like to find someone who 1) will take the time to explain things to me and 2) doesn't cost a fortune. If you've had any good experiences let me know. Todd

Yes, I can highly recommend Cindy Elwell who is very calm and clear in explaining things. She knows the laws completely or will say so if not, and is smart and helpful. She owns a Legal Document Assistance company that is licensed to do all the forms. She consults with or recommends lawyers if needed but I know she has experience with other states and even international. She offers personalized, savvy advice. Cindy Elwell, for all estate and divorce issues, DIVORCE WITH DIGNITY, 1138 A Ballena Blvd, Suite 2, ALameda, CA 94501 510- 523-7290 Email is cindy[at] and her web site is I can personally attest to her character, her professional approach and the ease I found in working with her. AND I have about 8 friends who use her for everything from estate planning to trademark registration. a satisfied customer

I recommend attorney Charles Lee based in Orinda. Charles helped my husband and I prepare living trusts, will, advanced health care directives, etc. He was very pleasant and explained everything in simple terms. He even provided some examples of how other people structure their estate planning to give us an idea. By our second visit, we signed all the paperwork and his office took care of transferring our title. I felt that his fees were very reasonable. Glad to have planned our estate

I've had excellent experience working with Larry Moll, whose office is on College Avenue. He exhibits all the qualities I look for in an attorney...experienced, thoughtful, good listener, concise, accessible and prompt, and reasonably priced. Although he assisted me with a complex real estate contract, his expertise is estate planning. Ben

I'd like to recommend Barry W. Finkelstein. He is an attorney specializing in estate planning who is really sharp at what he does. You can call him at (510) 521-7636, or email barry[at] David

I have worked with Gloria K. Park on two different estate-related matters and she has been excellent. Not only is she thorough from the legal perspective, but she is an uncommonly warm person, which is useful given the nature of her work. Her contacts are: gloriapark[at], (510) 769-8300 (w) Phil

Eve Contente is a great estate planning attorney. Incredibly smart and very easy to get along with. Her office is on Solano Avenue across from Safeway. Her phone number is 528-1411. Good luck. Carol

We hired Jocelyn Wong-Rolle for estate planning. Jocelyn was easy to work with, conscientious, thorough, clear, and intelligent. She worked with the highest integrity and standards. She anticipated issues that will avoid a lot of trouble for us down the road. We feel secure knowing Jocelyn has handled these legal matters for us. I would highly recommend Jocelyn for your estate planning matters. She can be reached at wongrolle[at], and her website is Jamie

Kathleen Hunt, in El Cerrito, does estate planning for all kinds of families. She's experienced, friendly, and easy to talk to - she makes the entire process seem easy. Her rates are reasonable, and she's available evenings and weekends. She'll even come to your house at no additional charge! You can read her monthly column in a Contra Costa magazine, or just call her yourself: 510-289-2288. Katie

Nov 2006

I am looking for a recommendation for an inexpensive, yet quality attorney who does wills/trusts. We are especially concerned with setting up custody and financial arrangements for our children if both parents should pass away. I live in Alameda but am willing to see someone anywhere in the East Bay. Thanks! Melanie

We used a great will/trust attorney to set up all our documents last year when we had our first child. His name is Lawrence Moll, 5315 College Avenue, Oakland. I think the phone number is 510-655-7141. He is a really experienced lawyer who really knows his stuff, but his fees are very reasonable. Give him a call. Best of luck! Victoria

I recommend Janet Dobrovolny. She just did our trust and will including child custody and was very good. I doubt she would be considered inexpensive however she works on a project basis, not hourly like most lawyers. So you know the complete expense going in. So there is no harm in calling them and getting the price for your will and trust. I believe the fees are determined by the complexity and size of the estate. Good Luck! - Happy Client

In response to your question about a wills and estate attorney, we used an attorney in Albany, Reece Halpern, and were extremely pleased with the work he did for us. Not only was he competent, he was reasonably priced. He set up wills for both my husband and me, which included custodial arrangements for our children; and he set up a trust to ensure that our minor would be financially secure if both parents should pass away. You can contact him at 510-527-4337 or at rh[at] deirdre

I can heartily recommend Richard Lee as an attorney for wills/trusts. He is very conscientious, and his fees are reasonable. You can contact him at rjl[at], (510) 272-0200 ext. 304, or

Oct 2006

We're ready to set-up a living trust and are looking for recommendations for a lawyer. Ideally, we'd like someone who is extremely knowledgable about the ins-and-outs of living trusts, friendly, responsive with fair fees, and located in the East Bay or San Francisco. My sister would like to use the same person as well. Thank you!

An excellent attorney who is superior and very fair priced, would be Richard Lee. He's easy to talk to and knows everything about living trusts. He's located in Oakland and his phone number is: (510) 272-0200, e-mail: rjl[at] He's the best.

We used Richard Hill in Berkeley. 510 540-0356. He was very knowledgeable, took time to answer our questions, and is also very nice and very funny

Had the same question earlier this year and similarly found the posts a bit dated. We ended up talking to two people: Richard Hill, and Mike Ferguson. They practice in the same building in Berkeley, but are not part of the same firm. Hill actually recommended we shop around and suggested Ferguson as another person to meet with. We ended up going with Mike, just felt more of a personal connection, but they both obviously know what they're doing. We were very happy with Mike's services (quick work, responses to phone calls and e-mail questions), and I'd recommend him without any reservations. For what it's worth, he's a certified specialist in Estate Law and also teaches at Boalt Hall (the UC Berkeley law school). Richard Hill, 1816 Fifth Street, Berkeley (510) 540-0356 Mike Ferguson, Ferguson & Berland, 1816 Fifth Stret, Berkeley (510) 548-9005

Hi, We used James Kaller in San Francisco and thought he was excellent and very reasonably priced. He also did our health directives and wills. You can reach him at 415-362-9134.

Re: Living trust lawyer: We heartily recommend Kathleen Hunt, whom we found through BPN. She did our living trusts and pour- over wills last year. Friendly, knowledgeable, reasonable rates, and very honest about what parts we could do ourselves to save $$. She's based in El Cerrito; we did a lot of the draft revision by email, which was very convenient for us. You can reach Kathleen at kathleenhunt[at] or (510) 289-2288

We used Gigi Orta at Osterloh & Orta in Piedmont. I definitely recommend her. Their prices are reasonable and they are easy to work with. You can reach Gigi at 510.594.8483. good luck!

I would highly recommend Daryl Weinroth, an attorney in downtown Novato that specializes in living trusts and wills, etc... We recently worked with him and he explained things very clearly and made the process of setting up a living trust quick and painless. He was also very resonably priced

I highly recommend Debra Watanuki for living trusts/wills. This is her area of specialty as an attorney. Her rates are reasonable. She has gift for making you feel comfortable while setting up this very emotional document. Her contact info is 510 894-1250. Also she will travel to your home to make it convenient! Best of luck

When it was time for us to do a living trust, George McNitt was highly recommended to us and indeed, we thought he was great. He is knowledgeable, experienced and easy to talk to. His office is in downtown Oakland and his number is 444-0800. It's great to get that living trust out of the way too. anon

I'd like to highly recommend Melinda Osterloh and Gigi Orta of Osterloh and Orta, LLP. They did our wills and trusts and were great. They're both easy going, knowledgeable and reasonably priced. Gigi explained things in a way we could understand and provided us with everything we needed all in one binder that she updated for us when we had our second child. I've referred them to many folks and they've all been happy. You can reach them at 510-594-8483 gigi[at] melinda[at]

We had a great experience with Gigi Orta (out of Oakland). Don't have her number on me but I'm sure you can find her. Extremely knowledgeable, flexible, has kids so she gets it, made an unpleasant but necessary process pain-free. Rates were reasonable. Highly highly recommend her. Good luck Nancy

October 2006

Has anyone used the ''We the People'' office in Oakland to prepare their living trust? I understand it is not a lawyer, but a document service that prepares the document for you that is legal and proper. Did you get good service, any problems? It is quoted for $400. I am a bit hesitant about forking out $2K for a trust with a lawyer
Shopping for Trust

I can personally recommend this nonattorney service, Divorce with Dignity, with an exceptionally competent and trustworthy owner, Cindy Elwell. ''Divorce with Dignity'' prepares trusts. I know they use the same service to produce the trust that many attorneys use. Divorce with Dignity started doing trusts, as it should be a follow up to many divorces, and their package includes having the client review the trust with an attorney. They are a very reliable service and the cost of their trust is $1,200 which includes the attorney, notarizations, trust, will, powers of attorney, health care directive, funding letters and deeds. In addition, Divorce with Dignity makes sure that the funding letters and deeds are recorded so the trust is funded; a step many attorneys do not even do. So even though they cost more than We the People, it's very reliable and the very same package used in many law firms for a lot less money. Call Cindy now, she's very solid.
Cindy Elwell Divorce with Dignity 1138A Ballena Blvd., Ste. 2 Alameda, CA 94501 510-523-7290

August 2006

Hello, Can anybody recommend a good estate planning attorney who would be licenced in both, California and Nevada? We have properties in both locations and would like to only work with one person. Thank you! Elena

We have a house in Ca and a house in NV. It was not difficult to do our estate planning with one CA lawyer. He just made sure the property was titled correctly to be part of our estate arrangements. His name is David Levin, david[at], and he is located in Alameda. Our situation was very simple, but I am sure he could tell you quickly if it is something he can handle or not planned

If you live in California, you need an estate planning attorney licensed here. A Nevada license isn't necessary; your lawyer here can easily help you transfer your out-of-state property into your trust (or other estate planning device). In my practice, I have worked with quite a few people in this situation (owning out-of-state property in Florida, Oregon, Idaho and many other locations) without difficulty. If you have any other questions, please feel free to contact me by phone (510-289-2288) or via email anytime. I'd be happy to help, and a consultation is free. Kathleen A. Hunt, Esq.

I do not know if he is licensed in NV, but we used Reece Halpern in El Cerrito and highly recommend him for any estate planning. We own several properties, and he was able to tailor our trust, wills, etc., to our specific needs. His number is 510-527-4337 or email him at rh[at]

I want to recommend an excellent estate planner to you. Kathleen Hunt is very good at working with you to come up with the best plan/will/trust, etc. Additionally, she is available at times when most other attorneys are not (hours much more compatible with people who aren't available 9-5) and has very, very reasonable rates. She is located in El Cerrito, although it is my understanding that she will travel to your location. Her number is 510-289-2288. I hope that helps Dora

I'd like to recommend Mark Jones for estate planning. (Full disclosure: he's a former colleague and a friend). He did our estate planning (trusts, pour-over wills, child-related stuff) last year, taking a burden off our minds. He's smart, personable, scrupulous, meticulous. He's in Walnut Creek: (925) 256-8706. Wendy

June 2006

We're finally getting ready to do our living trust. The price range from $800 to $8000 plus. How much should we pay? Do they get pay by hourly or by projects? Is there a difference in the outcome of the living trust(paying $800 vs $8000)? I know there are computer software out there that does living trust. If we pay someone to do it, I hope they don't just plug in our information. We appreciate any commend and recommendation ? Lisa

I am writing to highly recommend the attorney who is in the midst of doing our living trust. He's extremely thorough, goes through the entire process in a logical, well-thought out way, provides step-by-step guidance and is even a little funny to boot. (But not annoyingly so.) His cost is about $2000 flat (unless you're worth over $2.2 million,) and that includes updates, changes, etc for the life of the trust - with no additional fees. Richard Hill, 540-0357 (His office is located near 4th Street in Berkeley.) Alison

Call Atty. Richard J. Lee, in Oakland. 510.272.0200. He helps people set up trusts all of the time. You can totally trust him to give you thoughtful and caring advice, and tell you what you'll be getting for your $800 or $8000. Ann

You should first get the Nolo Press book on Living Trusts and look through it yourself. In many instances, you can do it yourself, unless you have very complicated finances . Most libraries carry it. I would try this route even if you want to evenutually hire a lawyer. You'll at least be educated when you go in and speak to him/her so it won't cost you as much as they will bill by the hour and you'll be paying to ask all sorts of questions that the book can answer for you. Good luck Kim

The most important thing is to make sure you're seeing an actual attorney. There are ''trust mills'' and other such businesses out there that will charge you some minimal amount ($399 per person, or even less in some cases) - and you pretty well get what you pay for. In fact, one such large business, We the People, is currently being sued for the unauthorized practice of law: they claim to provide legal help, but they're not lawyers.

What you want is an attorney who will ask you enough questions, and spend enough time, to ensure that you have an estate plan that's right for you and your particular situation. Beyond that, it's really just a matter of your comfort level. Do you want a big firm? That will usually cost more. Do you want a solo practitioner, or small firm? Often, that means a less formal environment. It all depends on what makes you feel comfortable.

You might consider checking out the lawyer directory on The listings include a lot of information about the lawyers, as well as their fee structure, so you have a pretty good idea of your choices before you even call anyone. Most estate planning lawyers charge flat rates for estate planning packages; it helps ensure plenty of time for asking questions
Kathleen Hunt

Saw Richard Hill's name for a trust and estate attorney - he is located on 5th street in Berkeley - and we wanted to second the praise about him. He is very smart, efficient, more than reasonably priced, and so reliable and conscientious. And, yes, like the poster said, he is funny, too Trusts and wills over and done with

March 2006

Anyone have a recommendation for an estate attorney? The previous postings are a few years old, and the two most recent names don't seem to be at the same location. We need to set up our wills, and determine whether/which type of trust to establish. Want to do this asap, baby #2 around the corner, and then we'll never get around to it. Thanks.

Gloria Park has been practicing estate law in the East Bay for 10+ years. She's honest, compassionate, savvy, well-informed, and won't nickel and dime you. She rec'd her AB from Harvard in Philosophy and her JD from Boalt. I've been friends w/ Gloria for 20 years and trust her w/ my and my parents' estate planning needs. Her office contact is: p/ 510.769.8300; 1001 Marina Village Parkway, Suite 400, Alameda CA 94501. Jean

Stewart Lenz prepared all the key docs for my mother in law recently and did an excellent job at a very reasonable price. My husband and I are both attorneys so for us, his firm does this as a little fringe benefit, which was great. Since that wasn't available also to my MIL we went to ! Stewart who was terrific, very thorough and thoughtful and even came to our house for signing everything. His office is through the tunnel but he lives in Rockridge so he tends to just visit with folks on this side of the tunnel in their own homes at their convenience. He's really a breath of fresh air. He is also a certified estate planning legal specialist by the California Bar. Whoever you use should have this certification. His number is (925) 283-4255. Shannon

I want to HIGHLY recommend Gigi Orta (510-594-8433), estate planning attorney. We just completed a living trust with her. Gigi came to our home in Berkeley and was great to work with. She's smart, efficient, really listens and made a seemingly- arduous process pain-free. If I were to do it all again, I'd hire Gigi in a second. Good luck. Nancy

You'll find estate attorney Duane Leonard to be clear, straightforward, and reasonable. (He works on other matters beyond estate planning, too.) He's located in Berkeley at University and Shattuck. Phone is 842-2321.

I can highly recommend Margaret Hand in Oakland. She is very thorough, explains things very clearly, and is fun to be with. (And I happen to know she teaches a lot of other Estate Attorneys how to do their job.) Her office is at 1939 Harrison Street, Suite 200, and her phone number is 444-6044. a satisfied customer

I've recommended several friends and colleagues to Carol Greenberg. She is a trust, wills and estates attorney in Berkeley. Her email address is carollaw[at] Her phone number is 510-981-1115. Adam

After years of avoiding the whole Will issue, I found someone who is good, prompt, & affordable, & feel much relieved to have my affairs in order. Her name is Kathleen Hunt, & she can be reached at kathleenhunt[at], or at 510-289-2288. Ari

We recently used Sara R. Diamond to draw up our will, living trust, and set up guardianship for our daughter in case something happens to us. Ms Diamond was very professional, knowledgeable, and very helpful in explaining our options and the resulting consequences. I especially appreciated her down to earth style, which made it easy to ask many questions and be clear on what we were getting. If you haven't yet set up a will or trust for your little ones, I recommend giving her a call. She's in downtown Berkeley, and her phone is 510-548-4844. Also, she's a member of ARAG, so if you work for UC Berkeley or another company where you have ARAG membership, you may have some coverage for the work done or at the very least, she offers a discount to ARAG members. stephaniek

Oct 2005

We are a lesbian couple that needs to update our current wills and create a living trust due to the upcoming birth of our son and some real estate changes. We are looking for a local legal advisor with reasonable rates.

I highly recommend David Levin for estate planning. His office is in Alameda, right through the Webster Sreet tunnel. He is extremely friendly, down to earth, professional and thorough. I'm pretty sure that he has experience working with same-sex couples. His number is 510-523-5040 and his email is david[at]
-a happy customer

I know a wonderful attorney to do a Will revisions and a Trust for you, or whatever else you need. Her name is Kathleen Hunt and Wills/Trusts are her specialty. And in order to make sure that people are not stopped from doing this because of price, she keeps her rates very, very reasonable. Her number is: 510- 289-2288 and she is in El Cerrito. Dora

We are just finishing the process. The attorney we used is Kathleen Hunt 510-289-2288. She made it so easy. Kathleen came to our house; that might be the best part! She laid it all out for us...exactly what we had to do and then gently kept us on track so that we didn't drag the process out forever. I highly recommend Kathleen as very professional and easy to work with. Sharon K

April 2005

Am looking for a laywer to put together a will/trust for our family - it should be simple we have 1 child, 1 house & our belongs. How much should this cost? There is a ''we the people'' office in Walnut Creek - has anyone used them & How did they compare for cost? Thanks Need a Will

If yours is a fairly simple situation, you can write your will yourself. Berkeley's own Nolo Press has several great products that can help you -- but the best of the bunch is WillMaker Plus. It's really easy -- and it works. I'm not just saying that because I work at Nolo. I used WillMaker to write my own will. To look at Nolo's estate planning products -- and to see a lot of free information about writing wills -- go to Nolo's website at Good luck. Amy

I highly recommend Gigi Orta of Osterloh and Orta, LLP. We just went through the estate planning process with her and her associate Melinda Osterloh and found them both to be extremely helpful -- they have a knack for explaining just the right amount of detail without having your eyes glaze over with all the legal jargon!

Their office is in Piedmont, but Gigi did the estate plans for me and 4 of my colleagues here in Lafayette. (She comes to you) She also teaches law school JFKU in Pleasant Hill, so she's familiar with Contra Costa. I did some price comparisons and she's still reasonably priced -- she's been at this for years, but they just started their firm, so they are still competitive. I'd grab them now before they get too busy! You can reach Osterloh and Orta at or gigi[at]

Feel free to contact me with questions. Good luck! amy

My wife and I used Gary Berger, an attorney based out of San Francisco and Marin to set up our trust and estate. I know he is not in the Lamorinda area but he's worth the trip. Gary was very nice, honest and informative. He kindly answered all of our questions (and we had a lot of them). The price for everything including a Revocable Living Trust, Financial Durable, Power of Attorney, Advance Health Care Directive & Durable Power of Attorney, Pour Over Will(s), Owner's Manual for Trust, Asset Transfer, Instructions, Quitclaim Deed to Residence and Notarization & Witnessing was $950. The price may have gone up slightly since 2004 but I'm guessing not by much. His number in 415-256-9122. Ryan

I just did my wills and trusts with Gigi Orta. She was efficient and well priced. I highly recommend her. It feels great to have it done!
Genevieve Orta, Esq. 231 Palm Drive Piedmont, CA 94610 510.594.8483 tel 510.282.8483 cell 510.291.3211 fax gigi[at]

I can recommend Kathleen Hunt as a very good estate planning attorney (wills, trusts, etc). She's in El Cerrito and is wonderful and has good rates. Dora

We used Robert A. Martin, Esq. in Walnut Creek. He came highly recommended by two of my oldest friends from high school, who all worked with Bob at the same law firm before Bob went out on his own. The mother of one of those friends also used Bob for the same thing and has been very pleased. Bob is very, very thorough and a very nice person. His contact information is:
Robert A. Martin, Esq. Suite 500 1500 Newell Ave. Walnut Creek, CA 94598 925-935-9935

Rick Collari based in Danville. We recently had him prepare our final will, advanced health care directives, trust, powers of attorney, etc. His price may seem high, compared to some of the group/paralegal services, but you get alot for the money.

My husband, Reece Halpern, specializes in estate planning and providing legal services to entrepreneurs. He offers a free consultation to new clients. He is located in Berkeley/El Cerrito, but does estate planning for folks long distance and locally. He is very ethical, smart, and has great people skills (but I'm biased of course!). More information about him is available online at: You can reach him at 510-527-4337 or on his cell at 510-499-1436 or via email at rh[at] Hope this helps. Kira

2004 and Earlier

April 2004

Can anyone provide feedback about working with lawyer Andrew Tanenbaum for estate planning (will, guardianship, etc.)? I keep seeing his ad in the Parents Press. I've already checked the archives and the last entries on estate planning attorneys were Jan 2003, so if anyone has any recommendations for other affordable estate planning lawyers (or ones to avoid) that aren't already listed there it would be greatly appreciated.

We recently used Andrew Tannenbaum's services to do our will and living trust. He was wonderful to work with. He was excellent at explaining all the legalese as well as all the implications of choosing one method over the other, etc. He included things we hadn't thought of, like advanced health directives and power of attorney should we become unable to make decisions. He had very sound advice on selecting key people named as executor, guardian, and trustees, and made sure we named backups for same. This may be standard, but was again not something we had even considered. He was sure to include everything in the trust that needed to be included. We had originally forgotten to add our timeshare and, being out of state, it entailed extra work on his part to ensure it was handled correctly. When there were complications there, he located us a lawyer in that state and reduced his fee by the other lawyer's fee, so that we didn't have to pay an overall higher rate. I thought this was extremely decent of him and certainly beyond expectations. Another very helpful aspect was that he came to our house on weekends to do all this! We felt Andrew was really looking out for our interests, that he was extremely knowledgable, did a very thorough job, offered reasonable rates, and went above and beyond in many ways. We are very pleased with the final results and are certainly resting easier knowing this is in now in place. We plan to use Andrew for all future dealings. He's great! Cathy

Jan 2004

I'm looking for a recommendation for an estate planning attorney in the Lamorinda area or Walnut Creek to draw up a trust for my family. It would be great if the rates were reasonable too! Thanks.

The Lamorinda Moms Club just had a speaker at their general mtg talk about estate planning. Her name was Gigi Orta, 510-419- 4979, gigi AT, but the offices were in downtown Oakland. Sharon

Jan. 2004

Are you in need of a will, trust, advanced directive, and all the related ''stuff'' but too overwhelmed to start the process? If so, I have the perfect Estate Planning Lawyer for you! My husband and I began working with Linda J. Miller when I was pregnant with our first child. Linda was recommended to us through a colleague and we couldn't have been happier. She is a very down-to-earth, informative, and professional woman to work with on such touchy and delicate matters (I cried every time we talked about the various ''what if'' scenarios with death). She walked us through the various documents that we needed, the California laws and interpretations of probate, trusts, and the like. She was always graciously willing to repeat information until we fully understood. Her prices are very reasonable and in line with the going rates (we did contact several other lawyers at the time). Heck, she even makes beautiful baby blankets! Contact her by phone or email at lawoffice[AT] She's in downtown Oakland. Nancy

2003 Recommendations

Sept. 2003

My husband and I need to establish a living trust, primarily for privacy reasons, because I am being stalked. The goal is to keep private certain records that are ordinarily matters of public record (i.e. house purchase). Can anyone recommend a wills & trusts lawyer? Thank you.

My husband and I hired Nicolette Mandl in El Cerrito to set up our trust. She was excellent: very knowledgeable, thorough, and trustworthy. A few years back her practice was in family law as well as estate planning, but now she focuses on estate planning; however, the family law expertise she has is very helpful in the area of estate planning. Her business phone is 510-525-2500. Kim

I HIGHLY recommend Richard F. Hill for any Wills and Estates issues. He is on his own and has an excellent pedigree with some fancy firm, but more importantly he is thorough and takes the time and has the answers to any and all questions. He is reasonably priced as well. You can reach him at 540-0356. Best wishes Laura

My husband and I used someone whom we were very happy with. His name is Jim Kaller. His office is in downtown SF (Bush and Montgomery, I think), but he lives near Montclair, so for our initial meeting we met at Royal Ground. He created a living trust, wills, living wills, and advanced directives for both of us for about $800. He was excellent at customizing things to suit our needs, and excellent at explaining different options..under what circumstances each option would be best, etc. Good luck! Stacey

July 2003

My husband and I just completed setting up a Living Trust (for probate avoidance, regardless of the vagaries of tax rates, and to formalize aspects of our marital agreement). We also executed Wills, Advance Directives for Health Care Decisions, and Durable Powers of Economic Decision. It feels great to have this done! Despite whatever modifications might be made in the years to come, having the basic structures in place is wonderful for peace of mind.

With great enthusiasm, I recommend the attorney we used: James L. Kaller, a certified estate planning specialist with more than 20 years experience. Jim gave close attention to our somewhat unusual situation and wishes, and counseled us thoroughly as to implications, consequences, and choices. He made sure that all our documents were consistent and coordinated. He is friendly in a genuinely caring manner, kept to the timetable we jointly set, and was a pleasure to work with all around. After our initial consultation (at our home in Oakland, since we live near him), we hammered out details quite efficiently via email, and needed to go to his office in San Francisco's Financial District only for the final signing/notarization -- well worth the BART ride! Afterward, he hand-delivered to us at home our original documents, each labeled in individual envelopes, with a full set of copies and follow-up materials organized in a three-ring binder.

Amazingly, Jim's fee was less than $1,000 in total. I know that it's quite common for attorneys to charge two to three times that much! Bonus: if you'd rather converse in French, Spanish, Mandarin, Russian, or German, Jim can do that -- no kidding! Really, this was the best experience I've ever had with an attorney -- and that's saying a mouthful. His info: 415-362-9134, jameskaller AT Sharon

January 2003

I got a recommendation for a lawyer specializing in wills, trusts, guardianship, and so forth, whose very thorough and informative packet of info included a generic estimate of a fee of more than $2000 for complete estate planning for two people. We have a baby, a house, life insurance, some small-potatoes investments, and some pension fund, but am I wrong to think that this is an exorbitant fee, or at least that our own arrangements will not require this much chargeable time on her part? What have other people paid lawyers for these services? The website had almost no mention of customary attorney fees. Karen

Did you ask your lawyer what his or her hourly fee is? It's not unreasonable for a lawyer in the Bay Area to charge plus/minus $200 per hour. At that rate, your $2000 fee is based on ten hours of work. Since everything in your trusts and wills must be legally perfect, I don't think that's an unreasonable fee. In fact, it's about what we paid for ours. After shopping around, it seemed about mid-range for this kind of work. If it helps, consider it another investment--this time for your child. In the long run a well-drafted will and trust will save lots in taxes and legal fees down the line. Carolyn

We did estate planning during 2002, which for us involved a living trust, wills, and health care powers of attorney. We met with the attorney twice- first to discuss a plan and the second time primarily to sign documents. We went back and forth with the attorney's office several times reviewing the documents. The attorney finalized the documents and filed the appropriate paperwork to put our house and other assets into the trust. She charged a flat rate of $1,500. Resting easier now that my son is provided for

In 1999 we paid a probate attorney $700 to set up an estate plan that included a will, a revocable family trust, and health care guidance (not the right term--this was a signed agreement about what you want done in the event your health fails and you cannot make decisions for yourself). I am sure the price has gone up in 4 years, but probably not to $2,000. Ann

I think $2000.00 seems a little excessive. I guess it depends on how complicated your financial situation is,etc. My husband and I did a will about 4 years ago. It included a living will, gaurdianship, etc., and it ran us about $550.00. We did it with a lawyer in San Francisco that was recommended to us. He was very thorough and did it in a timely manner. We changed gaurdianship last year, and he did it by phone and then sent copies to be signed with a witness present. It saved us a trip into the city, and he only charged $150.00. His name is Brent Kato if you are interested. Tracy

We paid $1300 for a lawyer to prepare our estate plan, which included wills, a trust, guardianships, and durable powers of attorney. We paid a little extra because of the complicating factor that we're not married. (We used Jane Penhaligan in Pleasant Hill and were very happy with her.) Linda

I recently had a estate planning for me alone and it cost $1500 which I thought was high, especially since it only took a one hour visit and was ready the next day. I certainly wished I had asked up front what it would cost. anonymous

We used James Kaller, 415 362-9134. He is in SF, but his office is close to Montgomery BART, plus he was very flexible about scheduling meetings around our hectic lives (we have two young kids). He even came to our house for the initial consultation, which was free. He has a package that includes a family trust, wills, powers of attorney, and health care directives for about $1000. He is an affable, thorough person who answered questions we didn't know we had. Anon

Dear Karen:

My typical fee for estate planning for someone in your situation would be $1000 plus costs. Costs are things like County Recorder's fees and typically run from $10 to $50.

I recommend that you make sure that the attorney is experienced You should ask what their primary area of practice is (it should be either tax, estate planning or probate) and how long they have been practicing (at least 5 years, preferably more). As a bonus, the state bar certifies specialist in estate planning, trust and probate. To be certified as a specialist, you need to have enough experience and have passed a test (most attorneys are not).

I hope that I have been helpful. If you have any questions, you can call me at my office. No obligation. I practice in Lafayette, but will make house calls in Oakland or Berkeley.

Best Regards,

Stewart W. Lenz LenzLaw AT aol DOT com 925.283.4255

2002 & Earlier

March 2002

Does anyone have a more recent experience (than those posted in the previous recommendations) for an attorney specializing in wills, trusts and estate planning? I am looking for someonne to draw up a living trust that would include special instructions on the care of a child. So I want to avoid lawyers who rely on a standard format for a trust. Reasonable rates would be nice too.

I just had a Will and Living Trust drawn up. Like you, I had special issues I wanted addressed. I used Norleen Drossel of Anderson & Drossel on Bancroft in Berkeley. She was thoughtful, reassuring and efficient. With Signature Legal Insurance the cost was about $100.

We used James Kaller in San Francisco to set up our Family Trust, wills, etc. He was knowledgeable, thorough, and reasonably priced. Jamie

I just used Michael Ferguson to draft my living trust. He is great!!! His office is next to 4th street. His number 510.548.9005 Jeff

Before hiring a lawyer, you might want to start with a CD-ROM that would enable you to write as much as possible yourself. Then, your lawyer can just check it over. NOLO Press sells a variety of do-it-yourself CD-ROMS and also has some very helpful info on its site: Click the Wills & Estate Planning link. Stacy

The only friend from high school that my husband still keeps in touch with is a lawyer specializing in estate planning -- and she just opened her own practice. (Contrary to what you might think, this means lower rates, not higher ones). I can vouch for her as a kind, intelligent, honest person; she will be putting together our will, etc. just as soon as we get our act together. The only downside is that her office is in San Jose - but you could probably do a lot of preliminary work by phone/email and just make one trip down there, or she might even come up here, who knows. At any rate, I can recommend her personally and think it is worth at least calling her: Carol Zolla Zolla Law Firm 1631 Willow Street, Suite 100 San Jose, CA 95125 (408) 264-9822 carol at

I wholeheartedly recommend Debbie Malkin, Attorney at Law, in Santa Cruz. She is understanding, compassionate, smart, and specializes in estate planning - wills and living trusts. You can reach her at 831-462-9100 or dmalkin at She is currently finishing my husband's and my living trust and it's been painless! We had one meeting in Santa Cruz and have been able to do the rest by fax, mail and email. - Sarah

A terrific and very reasonably-priced trust and estates attorney is our attorney, Richard Hill, in Berkeley. He used to work for Morrison and Forrestor and went out on his own. He also isn't rabid about charging for every moment that he interacts with you. He drew up a trust(s) for our estate and very specific guardianships for our children. He is tremendously competent and nice. He is listed in the local directory on 5th Street, I believe. I am not sure, at this point, if he is accepting new clients. It is well worth the try for a consultation.

Mary Gerber is an excellent lawyer specializing in wills. She really helped me out with my will in a very kind, professional way. She is also quite reasonable. Only trouble is she tends to get very busy, but she's worth waiting for. Her address is: 4319 Piedmont Ave. Oakland. Phone is: 510-658-8532.

My brother does wills, estates and trusts. He's a very knowledgeable guy, owns his own firm, and very high integrity. He'll help advise you as to what kind of situation you should set up. Call Ruben Sundeen at Sundeen & Salinas (510-663-9240). bijou

September 2001

Re: trust attorney: Give attorney Nicolette Mandl a call at least for a telephone interview. She is really smart, very attentive to detail, does not use a boiler plate trust document (as I have found some trust attorneys do), and her price is reasonable. She works out of El Cerrito and her number is 510-525-2500. --Kim Kim

Jan 2000


We need a person who can help us three daughters sort out issues related to our mother's estate, which includes some property, some cash/bonds/stocks, and a life insurance policy. I keep thinking there must be someone out there who can look at all this from our point of view, help us brainstorm possibilities that would satisfy us all, and know enough about the tax and legal consequences to include these in any discussion and/or analysis. We have a estate/trust lawyer (at $225 an hour!) and mom's tax person at substantially less, but still a lot. There must be some way of doing this with help that isn't so piecemeal and expensive. Has anyone been through this with someone they would recommend? Thanks Susan

I recommend buying the book Estate Planning from Nolo Press and reading it before your talk to your mother's lawyer or accountant. The book will give you good information on the issues and options you need to consider in handling a parent's estate or planning your own

Sept 1999

I would like a recommendation of a lawyer to prepare a will (or trust?) for my husband and me. I have the UC legal insurance. Has anyone out there used this to have a will prepared? Any advice and/or recommendations would be appreciated. I'd prefer to use someone in Berkeley or close by. Sally

Attorney Zachary Epstein prepared a trust and a will for me a year or two ago, and I used the UC legal insurance. He did a good job, followed up on everything, and took the trouble to remind me to follow up on something I was responsible for too. Working with Zachary was pleasant, and I recommend him. His office is near the campus at 1915 Addison St. in Berkeley, and his telephone number is 510/841-4500. Donna

March 1999

I recently updated my trust and will, and changed the guardians for my child in the event of my death. I was recommended by two different people to see Robin Pulich, an attorney in Berkeley on Shattuck Avenue. I was *very* pleased with her services. This kind of work is her specialty and she has a clear and helpful guideline on how to choose a guardian. After discussing this issue with her and applying her criterion for selecting a guardian, I felt no more ambivalence about it. I knew which guardian to choose. She is a participant in the UC Legal Service insurance program, so if you have that coverage consulting her for a will or trust would be considerably less costly. However, whether or not you have the legal service, I would highly recommend Robin. She is professional yet low-key, down to earth and enjoyable to work with. From: Linnea

I worked with Bonnie Bishop, an estate planning attorney on Shattuck Avenue in downtown Berkeley, to do my father's estate planning.She was pleasant and competent Nicole


On a good lawyer for making a will - We had a good experience w/ Atty. Monica Dell'Osso in Oakland (444-6800). She is extremely experienced (& affable, reliable, etc.), so even though her rates are high, she's probably a good deal (takes less time, etc.) Melanie

June 1997

Mary says:
=>...we really need to put together a decent will. Any
=>suggestions on where to start for good, reliable, clear

There's an excellent WWW site that lets you build & modify all sorts of legal documents, including wills:


If you don't know anyone, you can call the State Bar at (415) 241-2100 to get a list of certified specialists in estate planning law. For a simple will, the State Bar also offers a statutory will form that you can complete. It costs $2.00 and can be ordered by calling (415) 561-8867. The Alameda County Bar Association has a referral service that can connect you with an attorney if your will is more complicated. Their number is 893-8683. If you live in San Francisco, I believe the Bar Association of San Francisco also has a referral service but I do not know their number. Good luck!


For a progressive trusts and estates lawyer, I recommend Mary Gerber, 658-8532 (located in Oakland). Wendy

My mother is a legal secretary with an estate planning firm in downtown Berkeley. The basic form is pretty standard, but, as you perhaps already know, it's important that you don't leave these things up to the state. As an example, if one member of a married couple dies, the default inheritance scheme awards children half (for 1) or two-thirds (for 2 or more) of the deceased's belongings and places the money into trust funds with court-appointed guardians.

Their office is on Shattuck near the intersection with Center (across from the main BART station terminal, one block west of campus), which I imagine is reasonably convenient for most people on the list.

The phone book lists the firm as David J. A. Martin Professional Corporation, but Mr. Martin is semi-retired and probably won't take new accounts. Instead, your account would be handled by Mr. Holmes, who has 15 years experience and worked with a couple of large firms in San Francisco before joining this firm, which is fairly small. (Sorry if that sounds like an advertisement, but I thought people might want to know.)

Their number is 843-5800, if you want to give them a call. --Steve

I am responding to the person who wanted to know how to go about doing a will. I've worked with a lawyer who specializes in estate planning, probate, and tax law and who is also a parent of 2 young children (so she understands the issues personally as well as professionaly). I highly recommend her: Bonnie Bishop at 527-9708. She's located in Berkeley, has advanced certification in Estate Planning, Probate, and Trust Law, and is the mom of two young boys. Phyllis

In response to the question about wills-- we recently drafted ours with an excellent attorney in San Francisco. Her name is Ora Prochovnik and her number is (415) 982-8399 ext. 305. She draws up the legal papers, but equally importantly, she guided us through the whole process and helped us make our decisions about wills and trusts, guardianship considerations etc. I recommend her very highly. If you aren't interested in working with an attorney, I'd suggest calling NOLO Press. They have do-it-yourself guides on many legal matters. Colette

Estate and Trust Attorney in Berkeley: Norlen E. Drossel, Attny and Certified Specialist in Estate Planning and Probate Law, very competent, does trusts for children with special needs too, very easy to work with 510-540-8096


Zachary Epstein is an attorney on the Prudential list who I recommend based on my experience working with him on my will, trust, etc. He can help with guardanship arrangements too. Zachary's office is near the campus at 1915 Addison Street in Berkeley; his phone number is 841-4500. Donna

The best (and cheapest) way to prepare your will is to get the Nolo Press book (available at Barnes and Noble and Cody's) called something like, writing your own will. You may want to skim the intro to writing your own living trust because if you have assests like a home, you may want to prepare a living trust instead. There is a section about how to decide if you need a will or a living trust.

Both these books are written like workbooks to help you figure out everything you need to know and then you type it up yourself and get the witnesses.

Hope this helps,

On the matter of wills, NOLO Press also has software called, I think, WillMaker. Very easy, with a pretty good manual (describing things like differences between states on various matters, etc.). If you don't need to see an attorney, this is a simple alternative. Barbara

I have first person experience dealing with the effects of different types of wills. What the effects are on survivors differs depending on whether you have a regular will or a living trust. Part of your decision should be based on whether you want to pay your money up front or after the fact. Wills need to go through probate on the death of a spouse or both parents. State law allows a lawyer to charge fees based on a percentage of the estate's assets. Depending on what the estate is worth, this can work out to thousands of dollars. For a living trust, you pay up front to have the papers drawn up, but the estate doesn't need to go through probate.

I have the legal service plan which covers wills. It paid about $400 of the $1000 cost of creating a living trust. There is some leg work involved in changing the name on your assets to the name of the trust, but a good lawyer should give you the proper forms to make this an easy process. Also there are tax effects that can determine whether you want to use a will or a living trust.

Having been burned by lawyers quite a few times, even if you decide to use one, I suggest getting yourself a book and reading it before you make your appointment. The first time I didn't know what questions to ask and that cost me a lot. Even if you don't understand the ramifications of everything in the book at least you'll know what questions to ask. Ask up front about the charges to draw up the papers (both hourly and what the final cost will be) so there won't be any surprises when you get the bill. I'd also ask about the costs of probate, because finding this out after your spouse has died will add to the stress of dealing with your loss.

I know that this is a difficult issue to deal with. People don't like to think about their own or close family member's death, but the consequences for the survivors can be devastating. Thinking and dealing with the issues when you first have children (or ideally once you have any assets that will need to be disbursed, get married, etc) is much better than dealing with it in crisis or not dealing with it at all. I have also seen the difficulties when there is no will and that's even more stressful. You want to be the ones to decide who will take care of your children if the worst happens, and your children need to know this also.

Finally the lawyer on the legal service plan that I used and who was direct, up front and compassionate is Frank Lowe. His office is on Shattuck at Center street. I don't have his phone number at hand, but he's with the law firm of Pulich and Lowe.

Good luck.

Nolo Press has some good, straightforward books about estate planning, wills and trusts. I have found them at Barnes & Noble and would bet they are also available directly from Nolo press, which is a local publisher.

Also, if you are an employee and belong to the legal plan, one of the benefits is making a will. You can also call their 800# and ask to speak to a lawyer about things you need to take into consideration and also get a local list of providers. Marie

When our son (now one year) was born, we wrote our own wills using The Quick $ Legal Will Book by Denis Clifford, published in 1995 by Nolo Press. Elizabeth

Do-it-Yourself and Low-Cost Wills

Nov 2009

We are a young couple that just started our family and we need to get some sort of will/power of attorney in place to assure our kids are taken care of in the event something were to happen to us. We just bought our first home and are broke.. and will be for awhile.

My questions are: 1. which legal documents are crucial for us to do at this time? 2. Do I need to go to an attorney or do you think the Quickbooks or Nolo Press on-line will writing programs are okay? 3. Any ideas on how much it typically costs to get these documents written up by an attorney?

Thank you for any help you can provide! broke but still want to be responsible!

I can't speak highly enough about the Nolo Press products. So long as your needs are not complex (and they are quite up-front about what circumstances require a lawyer) they should meet your needs. They are user-friendly and accurate. I know lots of lawyers who keep Nolo Press materials alongside their more traditional law resources. Fan of Nolo

The main thing I would want to think about is -- who will you want to care for your children if something happens to you? The closest relatives may not have the closest values and lifestyles to you, whereas a close friend might. Would you want your kids to be able to stay in their school, keep their friends, etc. kl

To establish guardianship in the event that you die, you only need to create a simple document. The Nolo press book is what we used and I recommend you do the same. anon

Congratulations for thinking of this so-important step in protecting your family! Most young families in your situation need just four major documents in their estate plans:
- a revocable living trust (because you now own a home); - a pour-over will (which is a will that goes with a trust); - a durable power of attorney for finances (to allow each other, or someone else if necessary, to take care of your financial affairs if you're incapacitated); and - an advance health care directive
You *can* do this with Nolo Press, but I urge you not to. Nolo does fabulous wills, as well as a lot of other great stuff, but I can't say the same for the living trust software. That's something that you really should go to an attorney for. Otherwise, you're very likely to wind up with something that *looks* good, but that doesn't actually do what you want in terms of effectuating your wishes properly.

Most estate planning attorneys that I know offer the above four documents as a package deal for a flat rate. Of course, the amount of that rate varies tremendously, depending on location (San Francisco usually costs more), whether you want a big firm (solo practitioners tend to charge less), and so on. I've seen it as high as $5000 for a couple in San Francisco at a boutique firm; since that's more than twice my own rates, I'm just amazed by the range.

On the other hand, price isn't everything. More than anything else, you'll want to find someone that you really feel comfortable talking to. Ideally, you'll work with this person for years to come; your comfort level over time is a lot more important than the immediate price tag. And of course, there are other amenities. I travel to my clients' locations, rather than asking them to come to me, anywhere from Guerneville to Santa Cruz. Another great local attorney has her office right at a BART station and makes sure to be available during the lunch hour for her clients' convenience. And so on.

Consider shopping around. There are a lot of ways to find attorneys in the Bay Area. Personally, I recommend the archives here at BPN, or the lawyer directory at, as good places to start. Then call around. Talk to a few attorneys until you find someone you like. Good luck!

Nolo press has a book about doing your own will. They take you through the whole process and it comes with a disc containing forms that you just fill in as needed. It is easy to use and not very expensive. I used Nolo

Using the Nolo book will be sufficient unless you have some really complicated situation. I did my living trust and will using their books, and I felt completely confident using them. But if you want to use a lawyer, they often don't charge very much, in the hope that they will become the lawyer for the estate when the time comes, which is very lucrative for them usually. anon

I am a regular listener of Len Tillem on KGO radio. This falls under his practice. He has loads of free information on his website You could probably find exactly what you are looking for there. He also answers e-mails. Marcia D.

Kathleen Hunt did ours and she's great. She'll not as expensive as some, but she does cost a bit. Perhaps you can ask if she has a sliding scale? 510-289-2288 kathleenhunt [at] mailisha

June 2005

My husband and I would like to designate my parents as guardians of our son in the (unlikely) event that we both die. Do we have to go to a lawyer and fill out formal documents? We don't have any assets, and do not care who our stuff goes to-- we just want to make sure that guardianship for our son is set. What is the cheapest way we can do this? Is it true that we can just write a letter to this effect and sign it with witnessess signing as well, or do we need a lawyer to help us? What have others done about this? ag

Try the *Suze Orman's Will And Trust Kit: The Ultimate Protection Portfolio* by Suze Orman. $13.57 from You may need to pay a little more to notarize documents, but this should contain everything you need. We bought it, but haven't gotten around to using it yet. Anon

Do you need a lawyer? Not necessarily, but you probably don't want to just write a letter designating your parents, either. Since you say it's unlikely that you and your husband will die, I'm assuming that neither of you have some fatal disease or expectation of imminent demise. That said, your parents are far more likely to die while your son is a minor than you are, just based on your relative ages (no pun intended). If you've just written a simple letter designating your parents, your son could easily be left with nobody but the state - not a pleasant prospect.

Also, you say you have no assets. While that probably means you don't own a house (or maybe a car, either), I imagine that you do have some ''stuff.'' Even if it's just clothes, books, and miscellaneous furniture, it's stuff. Why make somebody you care about, like a family member or friend, try to go through all your stuff without any guidance from you?

I'm a lawyer, so I'm probably biased in my suggestion that you should see a lawyer. There are often possibilities that people don't think of on their own - that's probably the most useful part of talking to someone experienced in this area. For instance, a lawyer could remind you to complete Advance Health Care Directives and possibly financial Durable Power of Attorney forms if needed. A lot of lawyers (including me) also offer free consultations if you like. It's worth considering.

Given your circumstances, though, you might be perfectly well served with Nolo's WillMaker Plus software. It's even on sale right now, I think, if you go to their website ( It's a well-known and reliable resource for a simple basic will, which would include a guardianship provision. Kathleen

November 2002

I'm a single low income mom seeking an attorney who can review a simple will to let me know if I have left out anything and if I am using the correct form. I am looking at the California Statutory Will Form as a simple way to do a will that will give legal guardianship of my daughter (to dear friends) and will also let her/ them collect on my life insurance. I have no assets. Can anyone recommend an attorney who can review this form with me for a reasonable / low fee-- I imagine it would take no more than one hour and I really need piece of mind on this. Also would like to know if other parents have used this form.

Try the East Bay Community Law Center. It's a community legal services clinic over on Shattuck near Alcatraz. A number of Boalt students intern there. -- Betsy

I am not an estate planning attorney, and can't really comment on the will form, but your post alerted me to 2 issues: first, you can state in your will that you want your friends to be the guardian of your daughter. This will not be binding on the court, but the court will nonetheless usually follow the parent's wishes unless it is demonstrated that the guardian selected is unsuitable for some reason. It is my understanding that courts will award guardianship to the selected friend (if a responsible person) even if some family member objects. The one exception to this would be the child's father, so it would be wise to include a letter with your will, explaining why you've selected your friends, and not, say, your sister, and to explain why the child's father isn't an option, to give further information to the court.

Second, your life insurance will be paid to whomever the beneficiary on the policy is. You need to contact your insurer and get a change of beneficiary form. Attempting to change the beneficiary of the insurance policy via your will is NOT effective. Also, you may want to leave the life insurance proceeds to your friends, in trust for your daughter. You may also wish to change your bank accounts, in a similar way, to payable-on-death accounts, for your friends in trust for your daughter.

Finally, I recommend that you check out Nolo Press, which has a number of self-help legal books on this very topic. They're listed on Nolo's website, and might be $25 well invested -- much cheaper than any lawyer. (Good estate planners are expensive.) The library might have them, too. Wendy

Try going to one of the free legal clinics at local libraries. I know that Rockridge Library in Oakland has ''Lawyers at the Library'' once a month or so, where lawyers answer basic questions for free. Also, an attorney friend of mine told me that even if you don't do a formal setup of a will, even a handwritten version--in fact, he said it was better if it was handwritten--will work to convey your basic wishes (like inheritance of your assets and guardianship of your dependents). Have it witnessed by a couple of people who are not named in it and store the original where it will be found, and send copies to the important folks in your life, sealed and to be opened as needed. And congratulations for taking the time to do this! A single mom (with a simple will, and about to make an estate plan!)

A very fair minded,excellent lawyer that I have used is Lynn Keslar in Oakland. Her tel. # is 987-8112. She will work on a ''sliding scale.'' Joyce

Estate planning for domestic partners

October 2004

I'm looking for any recommendations for an attorney who is familiar with estate planning (living trusts/wills, etc) and the special considerations for a lesbian couple with children. Especially considering that a new domestic partners law goes into effect in January. Thanks! Ruth

Richard Hill in Berkeley on 5th street did a great job for us. He is so knowlegeable and personable. Probably most importantly, for trusts and estate matters, he is very ! conscientious. He did a great job for us, and I have sent him clients with more sophisticated and complicated estate/inheritance issues, and he has done right by them. Type A Client

We (a lesbian couple with two kids) used Linda Scaparotti for our estate planning. She did our wills and trusts and durable powers of attorneys for health care, as well as the domestic- partner adoption for our second child. I don't know how she compares with other attorneys in terms of price, but she certainly knows the legal issues that face gay couples with kids. She's in SF, close to BART. Linda Scaparotti, (415) 434-9600, linda at robin

I would like to recommend Mario Kashou. He is a former colleague of mine. He's a great person and an excellent attorney. One of his specialties is estate planning for domestic partners. He is a partner in The Farallon Law Group LLP , 459 Fulton Street, Suite 102, San Francisco, CA 94102, Tel.: 415-255-2450, Fax: 415-255-2451. His email is mkashou at If you'd like to check out his background, you can find it at (The firm was formerly Wang & Kashou, but they recently changed names because they associated with another partner). amy