California Probate Code

Through their elected representatives, the people of California have created the California Probate Code, a vast collection of laws on wills, trusts, advance health care directives, powers of attorney, guardianships, and more. Here are some highlights:

If I die without a will, who inherits my property?

Code sections § 6401 and § 6402

Can I just write down a will? Do I need any witnesses?

Code section §6111

If my estate has to go through probate, how much will my executor be paid? What about my executor’s attorney?

Code section § 10810

If I have a revocable trust, how does it avoid probate?

Code section § 13050(a)(1)

If I create an advance health care directive, will my health care provider have to follow my wishes?

Code sections § 4733 - § 4735

If I ever lose the ability to take care of myself, and I don’t have a durable power of attorney and/or a trust, what would happen to me?

Code sections  § 1800 and § 1804

If something happens to me and I haven’t nominated a guardian for
my child, who will get custody of
my child?

Code section § 1510

The IRA and 401(k) bible

Many people hold the bulk of their assets in individual retirement accounts and 401(k) plans—often hundreds of thousands of dollars. For purposes of avoiding probate, this is good, because these assets are designed to pass to named beneficiaries outside of probate. However, the tax laws and regulations governing retirement accounts can be complicated and unforgiving, particularly when young beneficiaries are involved. Natalie B. Choate’s book “Life and Death Planning for Retirement Benefits” is a practical, plain-language guide for lawyers and non-lawyers alike. (Note: I don’t receive anything for this plug; like many estate planning practitioners, I’m simply grateful the book exists.)

San Francisco Law Library

For do-it-yourselfers and many lawyers, this free library is a valuable resource. Not only does it offer an impressive collection and helpful librarians, but it provides free computer access to a universe of legal tools and information.

California Board of Equalization

If you own real estate in California, you probably want to avoid triggering a “reassessment,” because your property tax most likely will go up. (Think of adding someone to the title to your property, or transferring your property to a limited liability company.) The BOE offers a great deal of information and examples on how to avoid reassessment.

California State Bar

The entity that regulates California lawyers provides general information and a pamphlet on estate planning.