Paul Horn is one of the highest volume probate attorneys in Southern California. Paul and Rick Harmon talk about Paul’s probate practice, how he chooses which cases to work on and which ones not to, some easy ways to avoid a formal probate, as well as some great stories.
Paul focuses on delivering educational seminars in order to reach new people in the market. Paul does probate all across California so he has to analyze which cases will pay out or not. The first thing he does is pull up the grant deed and if he sees the name of the deceased, he knows for sure he has a probate case.
In California, if the amount of money involved is more than $150 000, you have a probate case. You have to analyze the case first before you take it because there are many situations that do not qualify as probate.
What do you do from there? Once Paul checks the deed and takes the case, he looks to see if there was a living trust. He uses a checklist to find out if the case is a probate or not, first by checking the deed, then looking for a trust, and finally assessing if it’s more than $150 000 in value. If it turns out to be a probate case, he then has the client draw up a family tree.
If you practice enough probate, you will run into incredibly complicated family trees. Discovering if that individual has the priority over other heirs to be the administrator is important.
Where do you go from there?
You have to have the addresses of all the heirs involved. You’re looking at a cost of at least $800 plus most attorneys will charge a fee of $2500 to cover the coming probate costs. As a probate attorney, you will not get paid until the case closes up to a year later.
Do you have issues with clients that change the plan?
In the initial consultation, you have to ask them point blank what the plan for the house is. If they intend to buy out their siblings, make sure they go and get pre-approved and can actually cover the costs involved.
Make sure when you take on a probate case that you are working with the right person. Have them prove their relationship with the case, you have to make sure they aren’t trying to pull a fast one on you. You may not believe it, but people will lie.
Make sure there is enough equity in the house so the case makes sense before you take it on. Associated selling fees will cost around 8% and you have to factor that in.
Liens can change the game. Get a real estate professional to run a title search to learn if there are any liens on the house. Ask your escrow or title company to run the social security number to find out the unique identity of the client as well. These are some of the preliminary steps you learn that make sure you get paid and can keep your doors open.
What do you wish you knew as a younger attorney?
Take an area of law and become an expert in it. When you know the field well that’s when you do the job correctly. Learn the business aspect of a law practice while you’re at it. Sometimes the definition of maturity is the ability to say “no” in one word. You have to know which cases to send somewhere else.
What are the kinds of things that energize you after a tough week?
Practicing law is stressful. Drug dependency is surprisingly high in the legal profession. For Paul, his family drives him to keep working hard and trying to improve his skills.
Links To Resources Mentioned
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