What California Attorneys Use to Prepare for the Specialist Exam in Estate Planning, Trust, and Probate Law

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Note: If you are not a lawyer and are predominantly interested in estate planning, consider this exhaustive list of books related to making a will, estate planning, and retirement.

Becoming a certified specialist in Estate Planning, Trust, and Probate Law in California is a prestigious accomplishment that reflects an attorney’s expertise and dedication to the field. The California Board of Legal Specialization (CBLS) sets forth rigorous requirements to ensure that only the most qualified attorneys earn this certification. Here’s an overview of the general requirements and a guide to the resources that can help attorneys prepare for the specialist exam.

General Requirements for Legal Specialization

  1. Passage of a Written Examination: Candidates must pass a comprehensive written examination in the legal specialty area. The exam tests knowledge and skills across a broad range of topics within estate planning, trust, and probate law.
  2. Practice Experience: Attorneys must have practiced law continuously for at least five years, with at least 25 percent of their professional time devoted to the specialty area. This ensures that candidates have significant practical experience in estate planning, trust administration, and probate matters.
  3. Continuing Education: Completion of continuing education in the specialty area is required. This education must exceed the requirements for general licensees of the State Bar of California, demonstrating a deeper commitment to staying current with developments in the field.
  4. Comprehensive Experience: Candidates must demonstrate a broad-based and commprehensive experience in the specialty area. This involves completing a variety of matters related to estate planning, trust administration, and probate law.
  5. Favorable Evaluations: Attorneys must receive favorable evaluations from peers, including other attorneys and judges familiar with their work. These evaluations attest to the candidate’s competence, professionalism, and ethical standards.

Areas That May Be Tested on the Specialist Exam

The specialist exam covers several key areas in estate planning, trust, and probate law. Attorneys should be well-versed in the following topics:

  1. Estate Planning: This includes drafting and interpreting wills and trusts, understanding tax implications, and advising clients on strategies to manage and distribute their estates effectively. Attorneys must be knowledgeable about various estate planning tools, such as revocable living trusts, irrevocable trusts, charitable remainder trusts, and more.
  2. Incapacity Planning: Lawyers must understand how to create documents that address clients’ needs in the event of incapacity, such as durable powers of attorney, advance health care directives, and conservatorships.
  3. Trust Administration: This area focuses on the duties and responsibilities of trustees, including managing trust assets, ensuring compliance with trust terms, and addressing beneficiary concerns. Attorneys should be familiar with the California Probate Code and relevant case law.
  4. Probate Administration: Attorneys must navigate the probate process, including filing petitions, managing estate assets, addressing creditor claims, and distributing assets according to the decedent’s will or state law.
  5. Probate Litigation: Knowledge of litigation procedures related to will contests, trust disputes, and fiduciary breaches is essential. This includes understanding the rules of civil procedure, evidentiary issues, and strategies for effectively representing clients in court.

Recommended Resources

To prepare for the specialist exam, California attorneys can turn to several authoritative treatises and guides that provide in-depth knowledge and practical insights into estate planning, trust administration, and probate law.

  1. “California Estate Planning” by Continuing Education of the Bar (CEB):
    • This treatise offers comprehensive coverage of estate planning topics, including wills, trusts, tax considerations, and family wealth planning. It provides practical advice, checklists, sample forms, and planning strategies tailored to California law.
  2. “A Practical Guide to Estate Planning” by Ray D. Madoff, Cornelia R. Tenney, and Martin A. Hall:
    • While not specific to California, this guide is an excellent resource for practical estate planning. It covers estate planning principles and strategies, focusing on real-world applications and problem-solving techniques. The book is known for its clear, straightforward explanations and practical insights.
  3. “California Trust Administration” by Continuing Education of the Bar (CEB):
    • This treatise provides detailed guidance on trust formation, funding, fiduciary duties, tax considerations, and trust termination. It offers practical advice, sample forms, and checklists, making it invaluable for both new and experienced practitioners.
  4. “California Probate Practice” by Matthew Bender (LexisNexis):
    • This multi-volume set is an authoritative resource on California probate law and procedure. It includes in-depth analysis of probate court processes, estate administration, and litigation matters, with extensive references to statutes, case law, and procedural rules.
  5. “California Trust and Probate Litigation” by Continuing Education of the Bar (CEB):
    • This treatise focuses on litigation issues, providing in-depth analysis, case studies, and practical guidance on avoiding common pitfalls that could lead to disputes. It’s invaluable for understanding the litigation risks and drafting documents to minimize those risks.


Preparing for the specialist exam in Estate Planning, Trust, and Probate Law requires a comprehensive understanding of various legal concepts and practical skills. By utilizing these recommended resources, California attorneys can enhance their knowledge and increase their chances of success on the exam. Achieving certification not only signifies expertise but also demonstrates a commitment to providing the highest level of service to clients in this complex and critical area of law.

What’s the difference between a probate lawyer, a trust attorney, and an estate planner?


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