California estate planning refers to establishing a last will and testament, healthcare proxy, power of attorney rights, and trusts to protect estate assets at the time of death. Estate planning is important for all U.S. residents, but even more so for those residing in the Golden State.
California estate planning strategies must adhere to state and federal laws. California’s probate laws are some of the most complex in the nation, so it is best to work with a professional estate planner or California probate lawyer.
Probate is a legal requirement used to settle decedents’ estates. The probate process typically extends for several months and involves validating decedents last will, settling outstanding debts, and distributing inheritance property according to directives in the Will or probate law.
Two types of probate exist – testate and intestate. Testate refers to estates in which a legal Will exists. Intestate refers to estates where no Will exists. Intestate probate requires additional time to settle because extra steps must be taken.
A last will and testament provides direction regarding how the estate should be settled. The Will is used to appoint a probate personal representative, establish guardianship for minor children, and bequeath personal property and financial assets. Without these directives, the estate must abide by California probate law.
The duration of the probate process depends on several factors. One of the most predominant is the estate value. In California, estates valued below $100,000 are often exempt from probate as long as a legal Will is presented through the court.
In order for small estates to avoid probate, the estate must undergo a 40-day waiting period. Afterward, the estate administrator is required to present an affidavit to the judge before distribution of inheritance property can occur.
Intestate estates must undergo a probate proceeding to determine rightful heirs. California residents who have direct lineage heirs that they do not want to bequeath their property to must engage in estate planning strategies. The last will can be used to include a disinheritance clause which states why rightful heirs are not entitled to inheritance assets.
It is important to clearly state why heirs are disinherited. Otherwise, heirs can claim decedents were under the influence of another person and contest the Will. Contesting a last will can suspend probate for many months, or even years. Legal defense fees often bankrupt small estates and force estate executors to sell inheritance property to cover litigation expenses.
In addition to protecting inheritance property, California estate planning is used to establish healthcare proxies. This legal document lets people state which medical treatments they do or do not want. Individuals can incorporate ‘Do Not Rescesitate’ (DNR) orders and include directives regarding nutritional and life-saving support measures.
Estate planning also allows for granting Power of Attorney rights to another person. POA is a very important decision that should not be taken lightly. It is important to designate POA privileges to someone who is capable of making difficult decisions during extremely stressful conditions, as well as someone who can be trusted to make smart financial decisions.
Engaging in California estate planning is one of the best gifts anyone can leave their loved ones. Without directives, everything will be left in the hands of the court system and will probably not turn out the way it was intended. Estate planning can also reduce family strife and allow for timely distribution of inheritance gifts.
California Probate Code