Expert opinions do not come cheaply. In fact, an expert may be one of the most expensive parts of your Trust or Will lawsuit. In part, the expense is due to the fact that you are hiring a professional (either a doctor, CPA, lawyer, or financial planner) and good ones don’t come cheap. In part, the expense is due to the large piles of documents, discovery, and deposition testimony the expert must review in order to prepare. And in part, the expense is due to the experts knowing how important they are to your case.
Expert witnesses are the only way to introduce medical diagnosis as evidence during trial. You cannot just show up with medical records and expect the court to admit them as evidence because the records are hearsay. Further, in most Trust or Will lawsuits you need proof of a mental defect to prove your case, and that requires the opinion of an expert. Legally speaking, your case is dead-on-arrival without an expert witness.
So what’s this gonna cost ya? Most experts in California require a $5,000 retainer to get started and then bill hourly. Oftentimes they will use one rate when reviewing documents, another higher rate when testifying at deposition, and more still to testify at trial. All told, a medical expert can run from $15,000 to $25,000 or more to testify through trial. Financial experts and forensic accountants charge about the same. So if you have a case with multiple experts, be prepared to shell out $30,000 to $50,000 or more. Yikes!
Ironically, many Trust and Will cases are decided by the judge based on the strength (and weaknesses) of the lay witnesses—that is, people who knew the decedent, observed the events, or discussed estate planning with the decedent. While experts are legally required, they are not always as persuasive as the people who knew and talked to the decedent everyday. Yet lay witnesses don’t get paid, other than a small check for mileage to travel to a deposition or trial. They say the best things in life are free, that may be true of your Trust lawsuit too.
The bottom line: litigation is an investment. You must be prepared to invest in expert witnesses if you want your case to survive until trial.