Meet James (Jake) Walker. Rick Harmon and James talk about his law practice, some title surprises, transfer tech challenges, and some interesting stories. Learn a creative approve to sorting out a five-way inheritance and the unexpected dangers of filing an insurance claim for fire damages.
How has the local Napa economy been affected by the fires?
The wine industry has been going through some tough times due to the fires recently, in addition to all the other people having it rough. There has been a lot of money raised by the wine industry to help out because a lot of people have lost their homes, so much so that a rent gouging law is going into place.
What does your typical client look like?
James’s typical client is a family or individual that owns some amount of valuable real estate. Estate taxes are not really his focus, but income tax and Prop 13 are major parts of his practice. Everyone should have some estate planning, but especially those with valuable real estate holdings.
His business is mainly about spotting issues, and less about litigation. As an estate planner, if James finds himself in court it’s usually because he screwed up! So that doesn’t happen very often.
What do you find the most interesting about your work?
James likes to solve his client’s problems. Lawyers often get calls when things aren’t going smoothly, but James likes solving problems and then executing the solution. He prefers to be ahead of the problem rather than reacting to one.
James relates a story of a lawyer that made an insurance claim on a collection of cigars that he insured against loss. After smoking the cigars, he claimed they burned in a series of small fires. He ended up winning the case, but then being convicted of 24 counts of arson!
He also tells the tale of a father that passed a property on to his sons but they ran up against Prop 13. Under Prop 13 you can transfer property to children without getting the property reassessed, but not from brother to brother. They had a problem on their hands because 90% of the property would have to be reassessed and that would substantially increase their real estate taxes.
Have you seen many probate cases that go back to ancient times?
The oldest deed James had seen had to do with a property that was being sold to the SMART system. It went all the way back to the Spanish Land Grant. It was really hard to read but probably dated back to the 1870’s.
A great book to learn more is Land in California, it’s produced by the University of California Press and talks about all the issues that arose from the early history of the area. Water rights is another interesting system that is specific to the area.
James also does a fair bit of work in real estate law. He had a client that attempted to buy the house next to hers but ran into some trouble when she tried to sell a house that her mother owned in order to do it. There was a tricky situation involving power of attorney and transferring the deed, but James figured out a solution since she was ultimately the only heir.
How do identify some of the known problems when taking on a new case?
Gather the facts first. Clients will often give you all the relevant facts, they just can’t organize them in their own head. Listen a lot and avoid telling them what to do. Give them alternatives that work within the law. Approach the case from their perspective. If they were a lawyer, what should they do?
What do you think your greatest strength is?
Having the legal and practical experience has helped James quite a bit, alongside being a good listener. Sometimes people will tell you what they want to do without being able to admit it to themselves.
Links To Resources Mentioned
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