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Understanding Estate Planning in California

Estate planning involves creating a comprehensive plan that lets you determine how your assets will be distributed when you pass away, who will care for your minor children if you are unable to, and how your healthcare and financial decisions will be handled if you become incapacitated. Estate planning can often seem complex and daunting, and for that reason many people put it off. However it is crucial to ensure that your loved ones are protected. 

Without an estate plan in place, California law determines who receives your property, manages your affairs, and raises your children. If you become incapacitated without planning documents in place, your family could be required to seek guardianship through lengthy and expensive legal proceedings. An estate plan minimizes the potential for uncertainty and conflict in the future, and it can significantly reduce burdens on loved ones, including tax liability.  

Why is Estate Planning in California Necessary?

Estate planning is often perceived as something reserved for the wealthy or older people. However, the truth is that everyone, regardless of their age or financial status, can benefit from having a comprehensive estate plan in place. In California, where state laws and regulations play a significant role in the distribution of assets, having an estate plan is not just a recommendation; it’s a necessity. Here are some reasons why: 

  1. An accident or illness can cause incapacitation at any age. Having the right documents prepared enables family or friends to assist with financial matters and authorize medical treatment. 
  2. An estate plan allows you to provide for the management of your assets if you are incapacitated and the distribution of your assets when you pass away. Without an estate plan, the state will decide how your assets are distributed according to intestate succession laws. This can often result in your assets going to the last people you’d want to receive them. For example, if you are separated but not legally divorced, your estranged spouse could inherit your entire estate.
  3. Estate planning in California is necessary to protect your minor children. An estate plan allows you to designate a guardian for your minor children in the event of your passing. Otherwise, the guardian will be chosen by the court, and the choice may not align with your wishes. 
  4. An estate plan can allow you to eliminate or reduce estate taxes and other tax liability. 

The Elements of a Comprehensive Estate Plan

A comprehensive estate plan typically includes a will, a living trust, a durable power of attorney for finances, and an advance health care directive. A will is essential for designating guardians for your minor children and outlining how your assets should be distributed. Creation of a living trust can allow assets to pass assets to beneficiaries without the need for a lengthy, public, and expensive probate process. 

A durable power of attorney for finances allows you to appoint someone you trust to make financial decisions on your behalf if you cannot do so. In California, an advance health care directive enables you to appoint someone to make healthcare decisions if you become incapacitated and to provide instructions about the type of care you would want to receive in certain situations if you are not able to communicate on your own.

Estate Planning and Divorce in California

Divorce can be emotionally charged and complex, especially in California, where state-specific laws and regulations can significantly impact the outcome. One critical aspect often overlooked during this time is updating your estate plan. When you're going through a divorce, it's essential to remember that your current estate plan may still list your soon-to-be ex-spouse as the primary beneficiary of your will or trust. Without an update, your spouse could inherit a significant portion of your assets, even if that is no longer your wish. 

Moreover, your estranged spouse may still have the power of attorney over your finances and healthcare decisions. This could give them the authority to make crucial decisions on your behalf, decisions that may not align with your preferences or best interests. 

In California, where community property laws dictate that any assets acquired during the marriage are considered jointly owned, the implications of not updating your estate plan can be even more significant. For example, if your spouse is listed as the beneficiary of your life insurance policy, they could still receive the payout even if you are separated or in the process of divorcing.

Furthermore, an updated estate plan can help protect your child's custody and support rights. By clearly outlining your wishes, you can help ensure that your children are cared for by the right person and that any support payments are used in their best interests.

Contact Holstrom, Block & Parke, APLC for Estate Planning in California

Every adult needs to have an estate plan in place, and it is important to update plans over time as needs and laws change. At Holstrom, Block & Parke APLC, we can help you prepare a plan or update your plans so that you and your loved ones are prepared to face whatever may come in the future. To schedule a confidential consultation, call today at 855-426-9111 or contact us online.

True Love Lasts a Lifetime. So Does an Estate Plan.

There are many different ways to express how much we care and say, “I love you.” Red roses, a date night, a spa day, or planning a trip are all great ways to celebrate Valentine's Day. However, what says "I love you" more than assuring them that you will do anything you can to minimize their stress should something happen to you? This Valentine’s Day, consider giving your loved one an unconventional gift… an estate plan. Don't forget the flowers and chocolates too!

True Love Lasts a Lifetime. So Does an Estate Plan. | Sandoval Legacy Group, a division of Holstrom, Block & Parke, APLCWhile a legal document may not be the most "romantic gift," it is definitely one of the most meaningful and heartfelt gifts you can give or receive. Sitting down and taking time with your significant other or family member to review your current estate plan, or discuss your estate planning goals and create a carefully crafted strategy, is an important and thoughtful “date” that will protect and benefit your family for years to come. An estate plan is not just an important legal document that saves your loved one's time, money, stress, and potential heartbreak. An estate plan is also a way of expressing care, commitment, and love. Present your loved ones with a gift that will last well beyond February 14 and will continue providing and supporting that individual today, tomorrow, and even after your passing.

The past twelve months have been a constant reminder that life is truly unpredictable. Major life events such as a global pandemic, marriage or divorce, death, or a crippling change in one's financial situation could happen at any time, and any one of these would require changes to your estate plan to keep it valid. Whether you are in the beginning stages of your estate plan or revisiting an existing plan, everyone needs to plan ahead— no matter how young, healthy, and invincible you may feel. While your estate plan will never expire, it is strongly advised that you review your plan once every three years.  Make this a regular date night! Enjoy a nice bottle of wine together, review your plan, discuss your goals, address any major changes. There is no better way to show your commitment and love for one another.

Sandoval Legacy Group is now a division of Holstrom, Block & Parke, a Professional Law Corporation, one of the largest and most respected family law firms in Southern California. Once you are ready, we encourage you to meet with one of our experienced estate planning attorneys. With over 30 years of experience, we are here to guide and support you and your loved ones throughout your estate planning journey. We will ensure you, your loved one, and your legacy is protected no matter what life has in store. Request a consultation or contact us at (855) 939-9111 for any estate planning needs.

What is a medical directive?


A medical directive is a document where you appoint someone to make your medical decisions in the event that two doctors have said you're no longer able to make your own decisions. In those documents you're also able to set forth what you want those decisions to be.

For example, do you want life support or not? Who do you want to receive your remains? Do you want an autopsy? Do you want to donate organs? When you're able to set these forth in a document, it makes it easier for your loved ones to make those decisions in the event that it becomes necessary.

If you have any questions about making a medical directive, please give us a call at Holstrom, Block & Parke and we'll be happy to assist you.

Call (855) 939-9111 Now for a Free Phone Consultation.

We pledge to serve and protect your interests through fast, effective solutions.

How long is the probate process, and what are the typical fees in probate?

Generally, the probate process takes anywhere between 9 and 12 months. The length and cost of the probate process depends on the complexity of the estate, and whether the deceased left the estate in order. A lot depends on the courts' calendar, and whether disputes arise in regard to who may be appointed as administrator or executor. The fees for a probate are set by statute, which is set by the court. State law also dictates the fees that attorneys and executors would receive.

We've been handling probate cases here for over 20 years at Holstrom, Block & Parke and we’re happy to help you if you have any questions.

Call (855) 939-9111 Now for a Free Phone Consultation.

We pledge to serve and protect your interests through fast, effective solutions.

Learning from Tom Petty’s Estate Planning Mistakes

Estate planning mistakes become a costly affair when families have to sort out disagreements in probate court. More than a year after the unexpected death of rock legend Tom Petty, his widow and two daughters from a previous marriage are litigating the management of his estate.

Aretha Franklin’s Estate Remains Uncertain Months After Her Death

NEW YORK, NY - FEB 18, 2012: Aretha Franklin performs in concert at Radio City Music Hall on February 18, 2012, in New York. (Editorial Use Only)

NEW YORK, NY - FEB 18, 2012: Aretha Franklin performs in concert at Radio City Music Hall on February 18, 2012, in New York. (Editorial Use Only)

Based upon documentation filed in Michigan’s Oakland County court, the beloved singer-songwriter’s estate is estimated to be worth approximately $80 million dollars. However, despite her wealth and access to counsel, she died with no will, trust or estate plan. In December, the IRS filed a claim in probate court alleging that Ms. Franklin owed several million dollars in back taxes and penalties at the time of her death. These claims must be either satisfied or contested prior to the distribution of the estate, and could add years to an already complicated, expensive process. To add to the disorder, it is being reported that an heir to Ms. Franklin’s estate is attempting to obtain a court order requiring the estate to provide them with monthly financial documents and that another potential heir suffers from special needs.

Ms. Franklin’s lack of a comprehensive estate plan has resulted in the details of her wealth, debts and family relationships being a very public matter. Generally, the rights to song royalties, copyrights and publishing rights and the inherent difficulty in valuing such assets, lead to prolong battles with the IRS and will ensure a long and very public probate process. Additionally, the consequences of a distribution of funds to a special needs beneficiary can have far reaching, unintended effects to such beneficiary.

A properly drafted estate plan could have avoided this very public probate, kept her estate assets and debts private, expedited the distribution of her wealth and provided appropriately for the special needs of one of her children.

Whether you’re a celebrity or not, the best course of action, always, is to prepare for the eventuality of death with an updated, current estate plan, which takes into consideration all aspects of your life and ensures that your estate, big or small, and the distribution of your assets remains a private matter between you and your loved ones.

What Happens to Your Estate if You Die Before Your Divorce is Finalized?

The untimely death of chef and actor Anthony Bourdain has brought to national attention the potential ramifications of a person’s death during a divorce proceeding. In the same vein, it has highlighted the importance of understanding what would happen to your estate if you were to die during the pendency of your dissolution without having made any changes to your estate plan.

As occurred with Mr. Bourdain’s untimely death, he had been separated from his wife of 20 years for a year and a half. Though the pending “divorce” was made very public, it is unknown whether any divorce filing actually occurred,

What if does indeed happen if you have not taken steps in expectation of a permanent separation (indeed some are more permanent than others)? The broad answer to this complicated issue depends on whether your passing occurs before or after entry of judgment terminating your marital status. This discussion describes what occurs under California Probate and Family Law. The rules for these scenarios may be different in other states.

Death Before Entry of Judgment Terminating Marital Status

If you should die before entry of a status-only judgment, the Family Law Court would lose jurisdiction over all issues, except those already adjudicated. In California, this is called Abatement, and it happens automatically in this situation. Under these circumstances, your share of the community property and all of your separate property would pass as if the Divorce had never been filed! This is true, regardless of who originally filed, how long the divorce went on, how long the period of separation, or how hostile the parties were to each other during the process. It is also true regardless of cohabitation with a new significant other, regardless of the length of that cohabitation.

Therefore, your assets would pass to the beneficiaries of your current estate plan, which is usually your surviving spouse. If you do not have an estate plan, your estate, if over $150,000.00, would pass through probate, and your spouse would potentially receive all of the community property assets and a share of the separate property. Any non-probate assets, such as retirement assets and life insurance plans, would pass to your designated beneficiaries, again, normally your estranged spouse.

Death After Judgment Terminating Marital Status

If you should die after a status-only judgment (a provision of California law that allows the divorce to occur before, or separate from, the resolution of the other issues) that expressly reserves jurisdiction over the remaining issues in the case, the Family Law Court would retain jurisdiction and the property division would take place there. The personal representative of your estate would be substituted in your place in the divorce for this purpose, and the Family Law Court would be able to decide the outstanding issues in the case. It is worth noting, that the court’s jurisdiction over custody, child support, and spousal support would terminate automatically upon your death in the vast majority of cases.

Death after a status-only judgment also has a very different impact on how your estate would be distributed. A judgment of dissolution automatically terminates non-probate transfers between former spouses, including wills, trusts, and beneficiary rights under retirement plans. It also terminates the right of survivorship interest in joint tenancies and community property with right of survivorship. Unless the respective wills provide otherwise, the judgment also revokes all testamentary transfers between former spouses and any provision in a will nominating the former spouse as trustee, conservator or agent. However, a judgment of dissolution does not terminate the surviving spouse’s rights as a designated beneficiary under the life insurance policy. While the ability to change a beneficiary of a retirement plan or life insurance policy may remain during a divorce, California law prohibits such a change after the filing or service of Divorce papers.

One issue that everyone should consider with an impending divorce is that if you do not sign documents specifically stating otherwise, your estranged spouse will continue to hold the power, upon your incapacity, to make medical decisions on your behalf and, like in the case of Anthony Bourdain, will be the person to make all decisions regarding the disposition of your remains.

While no-one anticipates their death, the best course of action, always, is to prepare for that eventuality with an updated, current estate plan, which takes into consideration all aspects of your life, including an impending divorce. Sometimes doing nothing is indeed a conscious choice; by way of illustration a person with knowledge of a terminal illness also going through a divorce who chooses to maintain or change his/her estate plan. Sometimes it’s simply doing nothing.

Obviously we recommend that you always make that conscious choice knowing all of the consequences of that choice.


The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.