Living Wills. A living will is a document that appoints an agent to make health care decisions for someone when they cannot make health care decisions themselves due to infirmary or incapacity. A living will also allows a person to state his or her preferences regarding the medical treatment they want. In California, the State legislature has drafted a living will form called an Advance Health Care Directive which can be found in the Probate Code, Section 4701.

Guardianship and Conservatorship Matters. A guardian is one appointed by the court to manage a minor's estate or make personal decisions for the minor. A conservator is one appointed by the court to manage an adult's estate or make personal decision's for the adult. Often a guardianship is necessary when a minor is disabled, is orphaned, or inherits money. A conservatorship is most often necessary when an adult suffers from dementia.

Irrevocable Trusts. A irrevocable trust serves to give giving assets of one's estate away with "strings attached." Once an asset is put in an irrevocable trust, it belongs to another, but only subject to the instructions of the trust. The biggest benefit to creating an irrevocable trust is that the assets in it are not considered part of the estate of the person who created the trust when that person dies. This fact can result in an estate tax savings. In California, unless a trust expressly states that it is irrevocable, all trusts are considered revocable.

Life Insurance Trusts. A life insurance trust is an irrevocable trust designed to hold life insurance policies. A properly administered life insurance trust is not part of one's estate at death. For this reason, at the death of the life insured, all the proceeds from the life insurance policies on his or her death in the life insurance trust can pass to beneficiaries free of estate tax.

Probate. Probate is a court supervised process which facilitates the transfer of property from one who died, the decedent, to beneficiaries. Not all property one owns is subject to probate. In fact, the only property subject to formal probate is property in the name of the decedent alone, or property held with another not held in joint tenancy, or property that has no designated death beneficiary. Property passing to a surviving spouse is also not subject to formal probate and estates whose "probate" assets are worth less than $100,000 are also not subject to formal probate. See, nonprobate transfers at death, Estate Planning.

Nonprobate Transfers at Death. Not everything one owns is automatically subject to probate. For example, joint tenancy property transfers to the surviving joint tenant without probate. Life insurance passes to the beneficiary without probate. Accounts with a pay on death beneficiary pass to the stated beneficiary without probate. When assets are subject to probate because they are owned by the decedent not in joint tenancy and have no designated death beneficiary, probate is not necessary if those assets are worth less than $100,000 in California. These assets can usually be transferred by an informal means called a "Section 13100 Declaration."


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