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Will and Probate Explained – Why You Should be Prepared


by Robert A. Hull

Sound estate planning, the realm of the trust, will and probate generally keep property in the family, make sure debts are settled and don’t become burdens on your loved ones, and ensure your wishes for the distribution of your property – assuming such wishes are legal – are implemented according to your instructions.

Let’s start with wills.

If you pass away with a will, your property will be distributed according to its terms. Your will can leave your assets to a trust you created during your lifetime. In such a case, your will is called a “pour over” will because it “pours” assets not already in your trust, into your trust. Your will can also include a trust created in the will itself.

Your will also names an executor to administrate your “probate estate” (more on that in a minute). This executor organizes and distributes your assets per the terms you outlined in your will, and arranges payments of debts and taxes.

And, if you have minor children, your will should name a trusted guardian for them.


What is Probate?


Probate is the process by which the Court supervises and validates your executor’s management and distribution of assets, as well as payment of your debts. Probate generally takes a long time, sometimes several years.

If there are assets which are subject to the probate process, the executor must file papers to “open a probate” with the Court. The will and probate process is highly specialized and very time-sensitive (i.e., there are many hard and fast deadlines based on your date of death, the date certain documents were filed with the Court, etc.). Thus, we don’t recommend that your executor handle this process without the assistance of a knowledgeable trust and estate attorney.

Generally, state law sets the fees that an attorney assisting with a will and probate may charge (a certain percentage of the gross value of the assets probated). However, such fees, and the time and inconvenience of managing a probate, will inevitably be significantly greater than the fees necessary to draft a complete estate plan which can avoid the need for probate.

However, probate is necessary to lawfully settle your debts and assets only if you die with “probate assets”.


Your Assets – What Should be Covered in Your Will and Probate Planning?


Only certain assets do not require a probate process – they are called, logically, “non-probate assets”. Some examples include:

▪ Assets in Joint-Tenancy
▪ Assets held by Trusts
▪ IRAs
Life Insurance Proceeds
▪ Other assets with named beneficiaries

The administration of these assets are not governed by your will, but rather by the terms of the specific instrument. So even if you wrote a will, the executor may not need to open a probate, provided all of your assets are “non-probate” assets (or if you have less than $100,000 in probate assets). That’s good news for you and your beneficiaries.


No Will – What Happens Then?


If you pass away without a valid will, you die “intestate”. That is, the Probate Court will dispose of your property according to the California intestate beneficiary succession laws in place at the time of your death. If you are married, there are different schemes for community property and separate property.

If you don’t have a will, you don’t have an executor, so the Court will appoint a person nominated according to the statutory scheme (probably someone from your family) to act as your estate administrator. There is no authority to make transfers of your probate assets without the transferor being appointed executor, and an executor, with exceptions, cannot act without court approval.

Without a will, you can only hope that the people that you would have as beneficiaries and the amounts they would receive are consistent with the distributions provided for under the intestate succession laws.

A simple will and probate plan is a good first step toward the efficient management of your assets following your death. However, there is a much more powerful tool which, when used in conjunction with a will, can also have numerous tax benefits and help your estate avoid probate entirely.

Robert A. Hull is a Los Angeles trust and estate planning attorney at the Firm, and his practice includes business and corporate law. Contact Mr. Hull at 818.990.2120, or by e-mail:


This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.




California Auto Insurance - Policy Check

Injury Attorney Los AngelesLos Angeles Injury Lawyer 


by David B. Bobrosky
(818) 907-3254


California auto insurance industry experts estimate that 33 percent of the state’s drivers have no automobile liability coverage. And the rate of uninsured drivers in low income areas may exceed 60 percent.

Though recent figures from different sources have the overall numbers closer to 20 percent, that’s still more than 4,000,000 drivers with no insurance in the state.

And based on our own practice findings, we estimate that nearly 50 percent of the drivers we deal with have either no insurance or just the minimum.

Many of our clients think they have full coverage, which usually means they have liability, collision and comprehensive coverage. Unfortunately that excludes one of the most important auto coverage you could have – uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage.

Types of California Car Insurance


Before explaining why uninsured/underinsured coverage is so important, let’s take a look at the most common coverages available:

▪  Bodily Injury Liability: provides coverage for people you cause injury to in an accident.

▪  Property Damage Liability: covers any property you cause damage to, other than your own, in an accident.

▪  Collision: covers damage to your own car when in an accident, regardless of who is at fault.

▪  Comprehensive: provides coverage for losses to your own car for incidents other than a collision. This includes cars stolen, or damaged from falling trees, animals, fires, etc.

▪  Uninsured Motorist: covers you, the insured members of your household and your passengers for bodily injuries, damages or death caused by another driver who was not insured, or who fled the scene.

▪  Underinsured Motorist: provides coverage for you, the insured members of your household and your passengers for bodily injuries, damages or death caused by another driver who had less liability insurance than you have in underinsured coverage.

Importance of Uninsured/Underinsured Insurance


If you’re involved in an accident with an uninsured or underinsured driver and you only carry liability, collision, and comprehensive, you are left to deal with medical bills, lost time from work and the pain, by yourself.

By adding uninsured/underinsured car insurance, you can seek compensation for your injuries for up to the policy limits of your own uninsured motorist coverage.

For example, with uninsured policy limits of $100,000, you can seek compensation for your medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering up to those $100,000 limits.

If the other driver carries limits of $15,000 and you have that same $100,000 in underinsured coverage, you could obtain the other driver’s $15,000 policy limits, and recover the difference between the two policies ($85,000) from your own carrier.

Thus, by carrying uninsured and underinsured coverage, you are protecting yourself, your business and your personal assets.

Check your California auto insurance policies and make sure you have adequate uninsured/underinsured coverage. Check your excess/umbrella policies as well, as only certain companies offer excess/umbrella policies that include uninsured/underinsured coverage.

Californiauninsured/underinsured motorists coverage is relatively inexpensive…how can you not afford to protect yourself?

David B. Bobrosky is a Los Angeles Personal Injury Attorney. You can reach him at: 818.990.2120.

This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.




Cap and Trade System Capped for Now

Los Angeles Environmental AttorneyEnvironmental AttorneyStephen T. Holzer
May 26, 2011

Los Angeles Environmental Attorney

What is Cap and Trade? In 2006, California passed Assembly Bill 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act, meant to help the state meet a set goal of reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) developed plans to meet those goals. 

One strategy included a cap and trade system which allowed companies emitting fixed amounts of greenhouse gases to earn credits when they emit less, and to buy credits when they emit more. But critics of the plan say the strategy wasn’t well thought out.

In late March, Judge Ernest Goldsmith of the San Francisco Superior Court issued a tentative ruling invalidating CARB’s program. The Judge has now finalized his ruling. 


Why Is CARB Under Fire?


The implementation of AB 32 was challenged not by industry, but by a coalition of environmental justice advocacy groups, which claimed CARB had not adequately considered viable alternatives to a cap-and-trade system. Who are the parties that filed suit? 

     ▪ Association of Irritated Residents
     ▪ Communities Against Toxics
     ▪ Communities For a Better Environment
     ▪ Coalition For a Safe Environment
     ▪ Society For Positive Action
     ▪ West County Toxics Coalition
     ▪ Various Individuals

The plaintiffs complained that the system, which sets an overall level of greenhouse gases that industry may emit into the environment imposes burdens on low-income communities. 

The unfairness allegedly arises because, while an overall pollution limit may be set, companies exceeding emissions allowances can buy credits from other companies and continue existing levels of individual company pollution. 

The advocacy groups complained that the companies benefitting from a cap and trade system are disproportionately in low-income areas. While the system may cap pollution in the long run, the groups allege that the end result would actually raise greenhouse gas levels in low-income communities. 


Cap and Trade & CEQA


CARB’s approach to curbing greenhouse-gas pollution was specifically challenged on the basis of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Judge Goldsmith’s final Statement of Decision agreed with the groups’ claim that CARB violated CEQA by, “failing to adequately analyze alternatives” to cap and trade. In other words,  the Judge said, CARB had failed to determine whether the goals of greenhouse gas regulation could be achieved without the flaws identified by the plaintiff groups.

You can find Judge Goldsmith’s Statement of Decision at  (Association of Irritated Residents, et al. v. California Air Resources Board, et al., Case No. CPF-09-509562). 

CARB was supposed to finalize the cap and trade program by the end of October. Will they make their own deadline? Some say we will be trading carbon by 2012, while others expect a court appeal. 

Stephen T. Holzer is a Los Angeles Environmental Lawyer, Shareholder and Chair of the Environmental Law Department. Contact him by calling 818.990.2120.


This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.




Divorce in Los Angeles - 5 Things You'll Need to Know




by Vanessa Soto Nellis




If you’re looking for CA divorce lawyers you may be wondering how you got to this point in the first place. 

What counts in making a happy marriage is not so much how compatible you are, but how you deal with incompatibility,” according to psychologist George Levinger. In short, marriage is a difficult union.

And while many of us spend years in school learning how to solve problems in our chosen career, we rarely learn how to solve problems with a spouse. In fact, most people enter into marriage without any training as to how to problem solve, manage stress, or communicate effectively with a life partner. And that could cost a lot of time, money and emotional pain in the long run.

It’s no surprise that many married people have entertained the thought of divorce at some point in their marriage. And what do they want to know?

Some of the top questions people seeking a California dissolution of marriage often ask a divorce attorney in Los Angeles generally concern how long it will take and the average cost of divorce: 


 1. How Much Do CA Divorce Lawyers Charge?   

Divorce LawDivorce is an expensive and time consuming process. A divorce attorney in Los Angeles generally charges between $150 and $600 per hour. The average cost of divorce can easily run $25,000, but it depends on the parties and their issues. Average CA family law attorney retainers range from $2,000 to $50,000.

The court filing fee, about $400, starts the divorce process in California. You and your ex-partner must fill out paperwork, file it with the court, and serve it. Then you’ll need to fill out forms indicating all of your assets, debts, income, and expenses. You’ll have to serve those forms too. Here’s how costs can rise:

  • Uncooperative Spouses - Nearly every case involves a fact finding process in which each party is required to answer questions and produce documents. If your spouse does not cooperate with the process, that can drive up the costs of divorce in California or anywhere else for that matter.

  • Unresolved Issues - If the parties are unable or unwilling to reach agreements to resolve issues, then the parties must ask a judge to make a decision, which is time consuming and therefore, costly. For example, if you and your ex disagree about custody of children, the California divorce process gets very expensive as an expert may be called in to give the court information at the parties’ expense.

  • Disorganization - A divorce attorney in Los Angeles and anywhere else will charge clients for her time. Attorneys charge clients for preparing for court (drafting documents, gathering information, filing the documents, serving the documents, reviewing the file in advance of a hearing), traveling to court, appearing in court, and then preparing any orders that result from a court hearing.
    Attorneys need information from clients to effectively represent them. It’s best to gather all of the information, organize it, and deliver it to your Los Angeles divorce lawyer in one bundle.


How Long Does a California Divorce Take? 

There is a six month waiting period in order to obtain a judgment of divorce which starts when the other side is served with divorce papers. It is interesting that there is no waiting period prior to getting married, but to get out of a marriage, the state ensures that you have thoroughly thought about your decision. Obtaining a divorce is typically a long process.  


3. How Can I Lower the Average Cost of My Divorce?

The best recommendation a divorce attorney can make for controlling costs is mediation. Mediation involves two parties sitting down with a neutral, experienced CA divorce lawyer to:

The mediator does not represent either you or your ex-partner, but assists you both in arriving at an agreement consistent with California law.   

Although therapists and other well-intentioned professionals can serve as mediators, it’s best that separating partners use an experienced divorce attorney who is well-versed in state family law. If you and your ex reach an agreement that isn’t properly put in writing, it may not be enforceable – thereby causing future headaches. Document your agreement in accordance with California law.

Mediation is ideal for two individuals who are serious about resolving their dissolution issues, and willing to make compromises so that they can move forward with their lives. The biggest benefit of mediation is that it allows each of you to be directly involved in the dissolution process and minimizes the average cost of divorce. Attorneys typically take smaller retainers for mediations. 


4. How Do I Choose a CA Divorce Lawyer?


It is important that you feel comfortable working with your family law attorney, and that you are able to communicate. You want a lawyer who understands your goals for your divorce and is able to execute them. Most clients interview more than one divorce attorney in Los Angeles before selecting one. Some lawyers offer free initial consultations, while others charge flat fees or hourly rates.

Many times I hear from prospective clients that they want “a bull dog attorney.” Usually when I explain that taking a very aggressive approach to a case is the more expensive option, they reconsider, because most clients prefer saving money at the end of a divorce.

Also, litigation can emotionally drain you and your family. Sometimes it is necessary to behave aggressively. However, effective advocacy is usually determined by the substance of your information, not only the delivery. In California, spouses have fiduciary duties to one another so game-playing is not effective over the long term. In fact, the Court can penalize you for failing to cooperate with the divorce process.

The divorce attorney you select should be experienced in handling family law matters. Otherwise, you risk paying someone to learn on your dime. Worse, if the family law attorney you hire is inexperienced, you may be paying for a long time. You may also be at a disadvantage if your attorney does not exclusively handle family law matters.


5. How Can I Keep My Attorney Fees Down?


  • Organize. Make a list of questions and ask them all at once, instead of calling multiple times. Most family law attorneys charge in quarter of the hour or ten minute increments.

  • Clarify. Answer your divorce lawyers’ questions in an organized and detailed fashion.

  • Compromise.  If you are able to reach agreements with your ex-partner, that will minimize your costs as well.


Remember, if you and your ex-partner are willing to talk, you can both save time and money during your divorce. Our family law attorneys at Lewitt Hackman will help you mediate.


Vanessa Soto Nellis, Esq. is a Los Angeles Divorce Attorney and Shareholder at the Firm. Please contact Ms. Nellis at 818.907.3274 if you have questions or need help with California family law matters.

This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.


Top 10 Management Mishaps

Lawyer for EmployerWage and Hour Defense


by Nicole Kamm


Editor's Note:  This list by Los Angeles Employment Lawyer Nicole Kamm was initially posted on the blogsite on April 18, 2011. Please visit The Hive Marketing if you would like to read this post in its original format. 


Today's economy makes managing employees much more difficult. There's increased pressure to do more with less -- and in many cases, a lot less.  Mistakes inevitably occur. But you can sidestep some of these pitfalls if you know what to watch for.

Here are the Top 10 Management Mishaps to avoid so you can take steps to stay compliant with California employment laws, and hopefully safeguard your company against potential claims:


1.  E-mail Hazards - Watch What You Write


Hazard #1A more senior employee e-mails you that after 25 years with the Company, he is considering retirement.  You reply that it is about time he retire and attach information about Social Security and MediCare benefits.

Hazard #2:  You and an employee argue or disagree, which prompts you to vent by sending some particularly nasty comments about the employee to another supervisor. 

Hazard #3:  While checking your personal e-mail account, you watch a hilarious YouTube video full of offensive language. . .which you forward to a coworker you know will love it.


Cases in litigation are often made or broken by e-mails. Common e-mail mistakes include:

▪  Thinking e-mails are deleted after pressing the delete button.

▪  Believing e-mails are confidential if written only to internal management.

▪  Viewing e-mails as a conversation instead of a formal letter.

Don't hit the "Send" button until you visualize your e-mail as a 3’x4’ poster read aloud by opposing counsel in front of a 12-person jury.  This exercise helps you avoid some of the most common e-mail mistakes.


2.   Document Everything! (Even Verbal Warnings)


Remember: “If it is not in writing, it didn’t happen.”

As a Los Angeles employment lawyer, my mantra is “document, document, document.” 

As a human resources or management executive, you can help cover your bases with notes to the file, letters to the employee, memos to general staff, e-mails to management personnel, minutes of management meetings, etc. 

Everything that happens in the workplace that may be employee claim-related should be documented. And this definitely includes in-person meetings and verbal warnings.


3.   Improper or Incomplete Documentation - Be Detailed



Remember: “If it’s not documented well, better that it not be documented at all.”

Incorrect or incomplete documentation weakens even the strongest case.  As an employer, you should review all documentation and consider consulting an employment attorney before finalizing any writing.


4.  Reviews and Terminations - Say What You Mean


Sometimes human resources or management can “sugar coat” reviews and employee termination notices.  This could turn sour if the employee is angry and inclined to sue. 

Avoid telling the employee, “Your layoff has nothing to do with your performance." If  the employee takes you to court, it's hard to make a case for poor performance when you sugarcoat. 

Employees in litigation commonly use positive performance reviews when terminated in an effort to demonstrate they were good performers and the reasons they were given for termination were “pretextual,”  defined as “a fictitious reason that is concocted in order to conceal the real reason.” Examples of pretextual reasons include termination:

▪  Due to a work-related injury,

▪  For lodging a complaint (e.g., harassment, discrimination), or

▪  For excessive absences related to “protected activities” (e.g., disability, jury duty, witness duty).


Plan what you are going to communicate before saying or writing it.  Be honest and concise.  Explain the reasons behind the review or termination, but don’t be defensive or argue.  Remember, a single review or termination may be the linchpin for a future claim.


5.  Employee Complaints - Never Ignore Them


As a supervisor, you must notify HR or upper management immediately when you learn of potentially unlawful conduct.  Legally speaking, once a supervisor is aware of harmful or illegal conduct, the company is deemed to be on notice.

As a business owner or HR executive, you must promptly conduct an investigation when certain complaints arise (e.g., harassment, discrimination, etc.) or potentially illegal conduct is reported.  Employers are under a legal obligation to conduct investigations in these situations.

And investigations are essential to managing the workplace and resolving disputes before lawsuits arise.  You'll want to protect yourself as properly conducted investigations often lead to an important defense after a lawsuit is filed. 

Here are some basic tips for conducting investigations:

▪  Interview both the complainant and alleged perpetrator.

▪  Interview additional witnesses.

▪  Gather additional evidence.

▪  Document every step.

▪  Evaluate and conclude, based on the facts.

▪  Assess and address (if necessary) the future impact of the complaint on the workplace environment.


6.  “Off the Clock” Work - Pay Now or Pay Later


You must keep track of all hours worked by non-exempt employees.  Record the stop and start time of all work being performed, including the beginning and ending of each meal period.  You'll need to pay for all work being performed by employees (including any “off the clock” work).

Employees often accuse supervisors of pressuring employees to work “off the clock," or of “shaving” time records in an effort to reduce costs and increase bonuses for themselves.  And sometimes managers make honest mistakes, but mistakes don't preclude potential lawsuits.

Example: Employee forgets to clock in or out and manager makes correction on time card.


Have your employee initial the change to acknowledge that the corrected time accurately reflects the time worked.


7.  Meal and Rest Break Periods - Enforce Them


Meal Break Rules:

▪  As an employer, you're required to provide a 30-minute unpaid, duty-free meal break for each work period of more than 5 hours under California law.  However, you and your employee may waive the meal period by mutual consent IF the total work period is no more than 6 hours. 

▪  A second meal period of not less than 30 minutes is required if an employee works more than 10 hours per day.  But if the total hours worked is no more than 12 hours, you and your employee may waive this second period by mutual consent -- but only if the first meal period was not waived.

▪  Employees must be relieved of all duty during their 30-minute meal period.  “On duty" meal periods are permitted only when (i) the nature of the work prevents an employee from being relieved of all duty, and (ii) agreed to in writing by you the employer and your employee. 

The penalty for failing to provide a meal period is one additional hour of pay for each workday the meal period is not provided.


You should make sure employees are provided meal breaks and that records reflect meal breaks. Make sure the breaks are taken (i.e., require employees to clock out and in for the full 30-minute break).


Rest Break Rules 

▪  As an employer, you must “authorize and permit” your non-exempt employees to take 10-minute rest breaks every four hours. 

▪  However, no rest break is required for employees whose total daily work time is less than 3.5 hours.  Rest breaks should be taken in the middle of each work period, if possible.  You cannot allow your employees to combine rest breaks with meal breaks or use them to come in late or leave early.

▪  Rest periods are counted as time worked, therefore you must pay your employees for this time.  The penalty for failing to provide a rest period is one additional hour of pay for each workday the rest period is not provided.


Do not deny employees the ability to take 10-minute rest breaks.


8.  Enforce Overtime Rules & Pay for Overtime


In California, you must provide time-and-one-half the employee’s regular rate of pay for:

 ▪  All hours worked beyond eight in a single workday (or 40 in a workweek), and

 ▪  The first eight hours worked on the seventh consecutive day worked in a single workweek. 

Employers must pay double the employee’s regular rate of pay for:

▪  All hours worked beyond 12 in a single workday, and

▪  The hours worked beyond eight on the seventh consecutive day worked in a single workweek.

California employers my delay payment of overtime wages earned in a pay period no later than the payday for the next pay period. 

If delaying to the following pay period is unavoidable, you must itemize the hours as corrections on the pay stub for the period in which they are paid and identify the date of the pay period to which they are attributable.

A California employer's failure to pay overtime results not only in an obligation to pay the overtime owed, but the failure may also subject you to other penalties under the Labor Code.


9.  Leave Rules - Know Them


The state requires certain leaves by law, while others are optional.  To make it more confusing, some leaves apply only to companies employing certain numbers of people. 

For example, Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL) applies to employers with five or more employees whereas the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and state California Family Rights Act (CFRA) only apply to employers with 50 or more employees. 

All employers (even those with only one employee) must provide workers’ compensation disability leave and jury and witness duty leave.  Yet, no employer is required to provide paid vacation or sick leave.

Because the different types of leaves, both required and not, interact with each other in different ways, it is important to understand the various laws and corresponding obligations.


10.   “Protected” Activities - Don't Write Up or Terminate Employees for These


California law lists a long roster of activities that you cannot cite as grounds for employee termination.  Nor should employees be written up for these reasons.  Some of these include: 

▪  disclosing wages

▪  political activity

▪  limited time off for a child’s school or day care activities

▪  refusing to take polygraph test

These are the top 10 reasons employers leave themselves open to potential legal battles, but they are not all of the reasons. If you feel you need help understanding California's employment laws, you should seek legal counsel. A good Los Angeles employment lawyer can help you navigate the complicated territories of hiring and firing practices, carrying out proper leave and break policies and more. 

Nicole Kamm, Esq. is an Employment Lawyer who represents clients in all aspects of employment law, from counsel to litigation.  For more information, contact Ms. Kamm at (818) 990-2120.


This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.



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