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Firm Overview

My focus in law school was estate planning. After establishing my practice, I learned about mediation and have focused on both areas for the last 25 years. Since I have never been a litigator, I bring a planning focus to divorce mediation as well to estate planning. I have also been practicing elder law since the eighties.

My focus is helping clients make wise decisions. I provide worksheets to the clients to gather the concrete information that they need (assets & liabilities, budgets), I give them the legal information that applies to their situation, and I help them clarify their own goals and concerns so that they can make wise decisions. If more than one party is involved, whether a mediation or estate planning in a couple or family situation, I have extensive training to help people communicate so they can understand each other clearly.

I graduated from UCLA Law School in June of 1982, and moved to Sacramento a year later and established my estate planning practice in the summer of 1983. I first learned about mediation soon after that and took my first mediation training in February of 1984. I have practiced mediation since, and have done more than 1200 divorce mediations over the years. My practice is approximately evenly divided between the two areas of divorce mediation and estate planning/elder law.

Example cases

In the Divorce area:
My most satisfying cases are comprehensive divorce mediation. I enjoy helping couples who are often having difficulty communicating to work through the necessary decision-making to provide a settlement agreement to the court and avoid having the court make those important decisions, which often affect people for the rest of their lives. A separation can be such a stressful time that even people who are otherwise good communicators can have a hard time expressing themselves effectively. Many of us have not been trained to communicate effectively, and the situational stress often magnifies the issues that block communication. A couple may have the intention to talk clearly with each other, but find it almost impossible because of the personal issues that are presented during the separation. My goal is to understand each person, individually, and as clearly as possible. This helps each client understand him/herself, and also understand the person they are negotiating with. I believe that such understanding, of yourself and the other person, is what leads to wise decisions.

In the Family area: :
I really enjoy helping clients clarify their goals. For example, some clients really want to have their final affairs in order, but they don't know who to name as their agent, or who to leave their property to, or whether to give lifetime gifts or put (for example) a child's name on the deed to their house. By asking the right questions and listening carefully I can help them to sort out what their goals are, what they are worried about, and what their feelings may be regarding the people who are involved. I also educate clients about the legal options and legal results of various actions they might take. Recently a client told me about her experience in having me prepare a will and powers of attorney: "Patsy, the thing I appreciated most was that I really felt heard by you."

Couples who choose to live together without marriage or registration as domestic partners need to be aware that there is no common law marriage in California. Any rights to inherit, make health or financial decisions, must be made with the appropriate legal documents, such as powers of attorney. Cohabitation agreements may be important to clarify each person's understanding and reach agreements about property and support issues.

Main Office

Main
2012 "H" Street
Suite 201
Sacramento  CA  95811-0226

Phone
  • (916) 457-2850
Fax
  • (916) 457-7035

Fees

Free Initial Consultation?

No, I have a staff person who can answer questions about the process over the telephone and who will send out a worksheet so that the information is organized. When clients come in for the first appointment we can begin to work efficiently and I charge the hourly rate.

Services Offered For Fixed Fees?

I generally charge my hourly rate for everything except some estate planning for which I have fixed fees.

Hourly Rates

$300.

Office Information

Office Hours

Monday through Friday
9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Emergency After Hours

No

How did your firm decide on the primary area of practice(s)?

Although I was interested in family law while I was in law school I avoided it because I did not want to litigate and mediation was not yet being taught. Instead I focused on estate planning. I was introduced to mediation, and took my first training, not long after starting my own practice. I enjoy both areas of my practice, and they have many areas that overlap - property, tax issues, and family issues. I like working in the overlap between families and the law.

What is your firm's point of view regarding clients educating themselves on legal issues?

I educate my clients and will explain the law as clearly as possible during meetings, and I have written materials on some subjects. The difficulty with an individual doing legal research is similar to my trying to research a medical issue that one of my family members may have: it can be helpful, but I won't have the broad context in which to make sense of individual pieces of information. That is my only caution with self-education. I sometimes find that people have developed misunderstandings because they don't have that context. I have worked with clients and have continued to educate myself about the law and keep current on the law for the last 25 years. this gives me a broad contextual base against which I can assess individual issues.

Is your firm willing to review documents prepared by clients?

In the divorce area, although I am willing to review agreements that are self-drafted, I much prefer the mediation process. There are many issues that people often are not aware of. If they negotiate on their own they may find they have spent many stressful hours talking while neglecting one or more important issue(s). I try to work efficiently by getting all the information, both concrete (numbers) and legal information on the table first, before helping clients focus on resolutions.

In the estate planning area, I often find that the initial issues are what clients often need help with: who is an appropriate agent, should children act together as co-agents (not generally my recommendation), are there minors for whom there should be a trust, or a beneficiary who is receiving public benefits for whom there should be a special needs trust? Most clients don't fit into neat little boxes, and my documents are always specifically tailored. My value to clients is helping them to assess their own needs, goals and concerns and then tailoring the documents.

Is your firm willing to coach clients who want to represent themselves?

In the divorce area, I am happy to coach people who are negotiating with someone who is unwilling to come in to mediation, but I think the mediation process is generally much more effective. I can also review agreements that have been prepared by counsel for the other party.

Since I do not do litigation, I am not usually the best person to coach someone on self-representation in the court; however, I can certainly educate someone about legal rights and responsibilities.

Patsy K. Schiff

I worked briefly for an estate planning firm in Los Angeles after graduating from UCLA Law School and before moving to Sacramento.

I am interested in learning about people and I have invested much time in developing the skills to be a trained communicator. I am able to listen for the essence of what someone is trying to say, even if their words aren't so clear. I am able to express my understanding in words that the other party can absorb, and so I can act as a bridge between parties to help them make better and more effective agreements.

My strength is my interest and training in communication, and my ability to analyze situations and explain the law and the options clearly, in plain English.
My style is to be aware of both the process and the results. There are many decisions to be made and many details to be worked through. At the same time the process that the parties engage in can make the difference between good, lasting, wise decisions, or confusion and possible animosity. The more clearly clients can be heard and can understand the issues and personalities involved, the more solid the foundation for the future.

Personal interests:

I garden, knit, weave, read, walk my dog, and enjoy my (grown) children.

License
  • Bar Number: 106295
    California , 1982
Education
  • UCLA
    Juris Doctor , 1982
    Los Angeles, CA
    Estate planning and community property.
  • U.C. Riverside
    B.A. in Psychology , 1972
    Riverside, CA
    Psychology.

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