How Does Estate Planning Work in California?

Having an estate plan in place isn’t a luxury reserved for the ultra-wealthy. If you’re an adult in California and have assets, like a bank account or a vehicle, or you have children, it’s important to develop an estate plan. Establishing an estate plan with the help of a California estate planning lawyer can give you peace and security, knowing that your family has a plan to manage your estate according to your wishes when you’re no longer able to do so yourself.

Estate planning in California is a process that consists of completing a series of legal documents to determine what will happen to your estate when you die or become incapable of making decisions for yourself. Your estate is the sum of your personal property and assets, both tangible and intangible.

A thorough estate plan legally documents your wishes for who will oversee your estate, who can make legal and financial decisions on your behalf, who inherits your property, and who gets custody of your minor children if you have any.

Some of the basic legal documents in an estate plan are:

  • Last will and testament
  • Trust
  • Advanced care directive
  • Power of attorney

An estate planning lawyer can help put the appropriate legal documents and forms in place.

Other legal documents may be beneficial for planning your estate. It’s important to customize your estate plan based on the unique aspects of your life, family, and assets or personal property. Consulting with an experienced estate planning lawyer can help you tailor your estate plan to fit your needs and concerns.

What It Means to Be Incapacitated in California

In addition to end-of-life matters, estate planning can also determine what will happen to your personal property if you become incapable of making legal or financial decisions for yourself. The state of California describes incapacitation as a person being without understanding, having an unsound mind, or substantially suffering from a mental deficit to the point they cannot legally perform certain acts.

Incapacitation can be permanent or temporary, but it must be officially determined by the courts through an involved legal process. Being in a vegetative state or having complications from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia are examples of incapacitation.

While many people anticipate becoming incapacitated late in life due to age, it can happen to anyone, no matter how old they are. Unfortunately, accidents and unexpected health conditions can leave individuals incapable of making legal decisions about their health, finances, and life in general. In those situations, family members are met with the additional stress of navigating the legal system if their incapacitated family member does not have an established estate plan.

What Happens If You Don’t Have an Estate Plan in California?

Without an estate plan, the court determines what happens to your property and who gets custody of your minor children if you die or become incapacitated. Intestate is the term for passing away without an estate plan, and property is handled according to the California Probate Code for those who die intestate. If someone becomes incapacitated, the court establishes a conservatorship and appoints a conservator to oversee the incapacitated person’s assets.

The court’s decisions about how your property is managed in the instance of your death or incapacitation might not align with your wishes. Your property could be passed on to someone you wouldn’t want to have it, or your children could go into the care of someone you don’t trust. Additionally, the absence of an estate plan may cause unnecessary financial burdens, stress, and conflict for your family members and loved ones.

An experienced estate planning attorney can ease these burdens, giving you confidence and security that your affairs will be managed as you wish them to be.


Q: What Is the Basic Estate Planning System in California?

A: Estate plans in California include a series of legal documents and forms. Some of the documents may vary, depending on your situation, but a basic estate plan consists of:

  • A trust or trusts
  • A last will and testament
  • Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, authorization
  • Financial and durable powers of attorney
  • Advance healthcare directives

The documents must be completed correctly to be legally recognized. An attorney with knowledge of estate planning in California can guide you through this process.

Q: How Much Does Estate Planning Cost in California?

A: The costs of estate planning in California vary, depending on a number of factors. Establishing an estate plan for an individual could cost less than an estate plan for a married couple. Those with more complex estates might require an intricate estate plan, which can increase the costs of planning one.

In addition to self-help resources for estate planning in California, consider hiring an attorney who helps plan estates to reduce any confusion or uncertainty about the process.

Q: What Are the Seven Steps in the Estate Planning Process in California?

A: The process for planning an estate in California can be broken down into seven primary steps:

  1. Consider hiring an attorney to make informed estate planning decisions.
  2. Assess the inventory of your property, including physical and non-physical assets.
  3. Determine what your family members need to maintain a stable lifestyle.
  4. Designate the executor of your will, your trustee, and your beneficiaries.
  5. Complete all necessary legal documents and forms.
  6. Take federal estate taxes into consideration.
  7. Update your estate plan periodically to account for new assets.

Q: What Assets Should Not Be in a Trust?

A: There are disadvantages to putting certain items into a trust, whether it’s for tax reasons or practical reasons. Certain assets cannot be transferred to a trust at all. The following types of assets are examples of property that should not or cannot be in a trust:

  • Vehicles
  • Physical cash
  • Active financial accounts
  • Health savings accounts, or HSAs
  • Retirement accounts, like a 401(k) or an IRA

An attorney with experience in estate planning can guide you to put the appropriate assets in a trust.

Turn to Goebel Estate Planning for Help With Your Estate

Hillary Goebel of Goebel Estate Planning is an experienced estate planning lawyer with in-depth knowledge of California estate planning processes. She is skilled at advising her clients to take the appropriate steps to protect their property and assets. That way, their estate can be managed according to their wishes when they’re no longer able to do so themselves. Trust her to help you with your estate plan. Contact Hillary Goebel today for a consultation about your estate.