Estate Planning

Estates and Trusts: Planning and Administration

  • Trusts
  • Wills
  • Durable powers of attorney
  • Advanced health care directives
  • Transfer on death deeds
  • Affidavits of small estates
  • Probate
  • Trust administration

Estate planning

An estate plan is basically a set of instructions about what you want to happen to your property during your life and after you die.  The goal is to prepare for the future by organizing your things, avoiding costs and taxes, maintaining control, preparing for the possibility that one day you won’t be able to care for yourself, and deciding where you want your assets to go when you are gone.  Different legal tools help you achieve this.

The plan that works for you depends on your situation.  A will may be the only tool you need.  On the other hand, especially if you have real estate, you may want to create a living trust so that your family can avoid the delay and cost of taking a will to court (“probating” a will).  Or–again depending on your situation–you may not need either of those things.

I can help you evaluate how you want to prepare for the future and what steps you may need to take to make that happen.  I can prepare legal documents you may need.

Small Estate Administration
When the value of an estate is less than $166,250, and doesn’t include a house or land, the process for distributing someone’s assets after their death may be simple.  It may not require going to court to “probate the estate.”  I can:
  • help you figure out whether you can use the “administration of small estates” process to transfer the property of the person who died to the person with legal right to the property (and help figuring out who that person or those people are)
  • prepare an “affidavit of small estate” for a personal representative or a beneficiary to use
  • explain how to use the affidavit to transfer the property, for instance a bank account

See below for links to free resources about estate planning and small estates administration.

The purpose of this web site is to provide general information.  It is not intended to be legal advice regarding your specific situation.  Neither the site nor contact with the attorney creates an attorney-client relationship.   Confidential information should not be sent unless an attorney-client relationship has been established.

El propósito de este sitio en web es proveer información general.  No ofrece asesoriamiento legal relacionado con su situación específica.  Ni el sitio en web ni contacto con la abogada crea una relación abogado-cliente.  Información confidencial no se debe de comunicar a menos de que se haya sido establicida una relación abogado-cliente.


Four estate planning questions:

Will your estate be “probated”?

“Probate” is the court-supervised process for distributing the probate property of a person after they die.  It is often slow, usually requires a lawyer, and is public.

Do all estates go through probate?

No.  “Small estates,” property held in a valid trust, and non-probate property do not go through probate.

In California, “small” estates can often skip probate.  An estate worth less than $166,250, and that does not include real estate, is considered “small” and can usually be distributed without court involvement.

The value of an estate is determined by adding up the value of the estate’s probate property.  Some property that might seem like probate property isn’t counted when determining whether an estate is “small.”

Property held in a properly-formed trust does not need to go through probate, even if it includes real estate and assets of more than $166,250.

 Which of your assets is “probate property” and which is “non-probate property”?

When you die, “probate property” goes where the law — or legal documents you create — directs it to go.  An example of probate property is a house you own by yourself.

“Non-probate property” passes to a specific person automatically, whether or not you have a will or a trust, because the property itself already includes directions.  An example of non-probate property is an IRA: it goes to whoever you named as a beneficiary.

Is a do-it-yourself will a bad idea?

Not necessarily.  However, be sure you know what you are doing (including specific requirements about content and witnesses) and what your other options are. 

Free Estate Planning Resources

Estate Planning

The Sacramento Law Library offers useful information about estate planning.

The California Judicial Council’s online Self-Help Center explains the basics of wills, estates, and probate, focused particularly on what happens after someone dies.

A “California statutory will” can guide you if you want to make a simple will.  The California Bar Association provides a downloadable version of the California statutory will form for free use.

The Mendocino County Law Library, located inside the Fort Bragg Library and at the courthouse in Ukiah, includes books about making your own estate plan.

Affidavit of Small Estate

The Sacramento Law Library offers useful information about affidavits of small estates.

Legal steps for caring for someone who can’t care for themselves

Conservatorships:  When someone takes care of a person over 18 because that person cannot care for themselves, the person taking care is a conservator.  A conservatorship might be needed for the care of a disabled young person or for an old person or a sick person who has become unable to care for themselves. 

You can find guidance from California Judicial Council’s online Self-Help Center about how to establish a conservatorship

Guardianships:   When someone who is not a parent takes over the care of a child under 18, the legal process for giving that person the right to act as a parent is guardianship.  I do not assist in establishing guardianships. 

The Mendocino County Superior Court’s in-person Self-Help Center can help you represent yourself to establish a legal guardianship for a minor.  The California Judicial Council’s online Self-Help Center offers online guidance on establishing a guardianships of a minor.