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The 4 Parts of Estate Planning in California

estate planning in california

Estate planning can feel like a very complicated and lengthy process, but at Merrill, Arnone & Jones, we want to make it easy for you, as it is a necessary thing to do to protect yourself, your family, and your finances.

An estate plan is much more than a will. It is what an individual chooses to do with their personal belongings, real estate, and holdings should something happen to them. We want to ensure that your property will be divided according to you as opposed to the California Probate Code.

Probate can be a lengthy and expensive process that will cause your loved one’s more pain and hardship. A thorough and detailed estate plan gives your family peace of mind.

Here’s the 4 parts to a California Estate Plan


Everybody should have a will that they feel confident that it is valid and legal. Drafting your will with local lawyers is an opportunity to direct how your property will be divided in the event of your death as opposed to it being admitted into California probate.

There are several California laws regarding what is necessary to have for a will to be legally binding. We recommend drafting a will with an experienced estate lawyer.


A living trust is a legal entity that makes transferring assets from one person to another easier. Essentially, assets are owned by your beneficiary but wholly under your control until the event of your death. A trust should be used in combination with a will.

There are multiple kinds of trusts and options available for all family types and individual’s needs, and we would be happy to find one that works for your circumstances.

Power of Attorney

A Power of Attorney grants someone else authority over your property and finances should you find yourself suddenly unable to make decisions. The person that you choose would be allowed to make these difficult decisions for you.

Advanced Healthcare Directive

Similar to the Power of Attorney, an Advanced Healthcare Directive lays out to others and healthcare professionals what decisions you’d like them to make if you are unable to do so. In California, this must be signed in front of 2 witnesses or a notary public.

If you are suddenly ill or injured, this directive would show who to turn to for medical decisions.

A California Estate Plan is never complete. It should be adjusted every few years and after any significant life events. If you have any questions or concerns about your Estate Plan, please contact us here or call our Sonoma County office at (707) 528-2882. We are here to help you plan for the future.

What is California Probate Code?

California ProbateYou are probably familiar with the California Probate Code, and the hassles that can come with it if someone you love has passed away.

The California Probate Code governs what happens to the property of a person after they die or become incapacitated.

This code provides provisions that regulate wills and other estate planning instruments, as well as laws that dictate what happens to a person’s possessions after they pass away if they did not have a will.

The California Probate Code can affect your estate because it can dictate how possessions can be passed on, how debts against the estate are settled, what waiting period must be followed before assets transfer, and what assets can skip the probate process entirely.

Probate courts make decisions on guardianship for minor and handicapped children or conservatorships for the elderly.

The Probate Code even dictates whether or not a will is valid – and if it isn’t (or if there is no will) who inherits.

Most importantly, the Probate Code in California specifies what happens during probate (the process by which a deceased person’s estate is assessed, valued, and passed on).

How Does the California Probate Code Affect Me?

It’s easy to assume that the probate code hardly matters to the average person.

If you want to take care of your family after you pass away, you need to carefully comply with the provisions in the California Probate Code when creating an estate plan.

Otherwise, your best intentions can be thwarted by lesser-known provisions.

This can lead to stress for your loved ones during an already difficult time, or even unintended outcomes that may leave individual you want to inherit your estate with nothing.

That’s why it’s important to gain a clear understanding of the Probate Code in California before ever drafting a will or drawing up a trust to bypass the months-long probate process.

In fact, we suggest that you get expert help with any documents that may be subject to Probate Court.

While the Probate Code isn’t intentionally confusing, it is quite specific, which means that even a small misunderstanding of the Code could have major consequences.

At MAJ, we have a team of experienced California probate attorneys ready to help you ensure that your estate plan complies with the Probate Code and even minimizes the impact of the probate process and other annoyances like estate taxes.

Let our probate lawyers help you master the California Probate Code and take care of your loved ones with a carefully thought-out estate plan.

To learn more, please call Merrill, Arnone & Jones (MAJ Law) at (707) 528-2882 today.

Estate Planning 101: Here’s some basics you should know

Estate PlanningSmart people understand the need to plan for the future, including a future for your loved ones after you pass away.

Your family needs to be taken care of and have a clear understanding of your desires.

Estate planning provides a way for you to ensure that the people you care are provided for during the difficult time that follows losing a loved one.

If you have not already begun, you should begin planning for your estate now.

6 Essentials Of Estate Planning

Here are six essential basics of estate planning everyone should know to get started.

  1. A will is a good place to start… The very basic “Estate Planning 101” document that everyone needs is a will. A proper will ensures that your wishes are clearly conveyed to the courts (and your friends and family) after your death. While you can type up a will on a whim and get it signed by witnesses without outside help, a good suggestion is to have a will drafted by an experienced estate lawyer. Every state has unique probate laws and special requirements for wills, so do yourself a favor and make sure that your will complies with them. An experienced legal professional can draft a will you can feel confident will hold up in court as valid.
  2. But it’s not all you need to ensure that your loved ones are taken care of. A will is not the only document needed to ensure that your wishes are carefully followed. Advanced Health Care Directives, Power of Attorney, trusts, and other legal instruments work with your will to take care of all the details beyond who gets your estate and will help minimize cost before your death if you become incapacitated.
  3. Probate can be avoided. Probate can be slow and confusing, especially when a person’s estate plan is not set up properly. You can avoid the hassle of probate court with the right estate planning strategy. Trusts and other legal instruments can bypass probate, and investments like life insurance make it possible to leave money directly to a specific beneficiary.
  4. Trusts are not just for the extremely wealthy. When you hear the term “trust,” you probably conjure up images of young, incredibly wealthy heirs. In reality, trusts simply provide you with a legal entity that makes transferring assets easier after your death. Because trusts outlive people, anything held by the trust passes to a secondary set of beneficiaries, which means your family can access what you’ve left behind easier than having to wait on probate. An estate attorney can set up a simple trust for any person who wants to minimize probate and estate taxes.
  5. Estate planning is about more than money. If you don’t think that your assets are enough to merit a careful estate plan, think again. It’s not just about money and property. Estate planning includes making vital provisions for what to do if you become incapacitated through documents like a living will and a power of attorney. Your estate plan also makes custody arrangements for minor or handicapped children and provides financial protections in their names. Neglecting a careful estate plan means neglecting much more than just property.
  6. No estate plan is ever “complete.” You’re never really done with your estate plan. A good estate plan requires regular updates. Every few years and after every major life event, you should meet with your estate lawyer to adjust your estate plan accordingly.

If you keep these basic tips in mind while developing your estate plan, you’ll be in great shape.

Of course, every person is unique which means that no perfect estate plan can possibly follow just these simple guidelines.

Let the experienced estate lawyers at MAJ Law help you create the right custom estate plan for your needs today.

Give Merrill, Arnone & Jones (MAJ Law) a call today at (707) 528-2882 to learn how we can help you.