What makes a will valid in California?

First, let me start by saying that I recently had a “will” in a similar format come into my office. Giving it the benefit of the doubt, I took a deep dive into the law and case law at my disposal, trying to find some loophole to make this a will.

Unfortunately, this is NOT a will under California law. I had to give the bad news to my clients. (Don’t worry, we can still take care of business.)

Why not?

First, this will has no mention that this is supposed to be a will. Yes, I mention that I want Kendra (my sister) to be my executor, but other than that, the writing reads more like an informational letter. It is not enough to list my (pretend) assets. If I die, it is helpful information for my sister. If I wanted this to be a will, language that showed my intention to make a will would help convince the court I meant for this to be a will.

Secondly, this writing is typed without being witnessed. You can type a will…but it must be witnessed by two people. NOTE: NOT NOTARIZED! The two witnesses cannot be anyone named as executor or anyone who inherits. If one of those people is also a witness, you’ll need a third witness.

A will can be handwritten, but the law says that the “material terms” of the will must in handwritten. A signature and an afterthought in handwriting do not reach the level of “material terms.” There is a lot of opinion in case law about this, but it has been made pretty clear. Numerous cases have been litigated over a typed will with handwritten notes scribbled here and there. It only creates confusion and fighting when there are doubts about what the person actually meant to do. If you choose to do a handwritten will, please make sure it is HAND WRITTEN. After all, you are not trying to create an expensive post death nightmare for your family and friends. You are trying to help them. The best way to help them is to so things correctly!

Can I do a Will by myself?

The answer is YES. You can make your own will. However, you need to make sure it is done correctly under the laws of your state. If you are interested in making your own will, please research the requirements before trying to do it yourself. The internet and local law libraries are a great place to start. In California, the bar association has a free will form, which can be found HERE. Please read the instructions carefully. One mistake could make your will completely invalid.

As an attorney, it is hard to tell families “no,” and that things will not be as easy as they could have been if the person had properly planned. Taking care of business after a person passes is hard. Taking care of business with an unclear plan, or no plan at all, is even harder. Properly executed documents are a must to avoid confusion and results you never intended.

Can I Use a Notary to Prepare my Will? How about a Paralegal?

Please, for the love of probate court, do NOT use a notary to prepare your will. We probate attorneys make a fair amount of money trying to salvage legal work that was done improperly. The role of a notary public is to verify who you are. They are not authorized to do legal work, and contrary to popular belief, completing a will or other documents is not just a “filling in the blanks” job. I’d consider using a paralegal, but only if that paralegal is working under the direction of an attorney. It is actually illegal for a paralegal to do legal work without an attorney overseeing their work. Please see this article for a rundown of practicing law without a license in California. It is a crime, and you can be charged with a misdemeanor, fined, and look at jail time. If a person who is not authorized to do legal work messes up your paperwork, they can be sued and held liable for the losses and costs your family incurred.

All information provided for discussion purposes only. Nothing in this post or on this website, is contouring legal advice. If you have questions, please consult with a reputable attorney near you.

Estate Plan Questionnaire

You can download my very brief estate plan questionnaire from this page. This will help start the thinking process for choosing who will help you manage your affairs.

Please click on the button below to download and print.

To make an appointment with Karrie, please call the office at (760) 223-6026. Our office manager, Rhonda, will be happy to schedule an appointment with you.


Please follow my Facebook page for more up to the minute updates concerning our office and how the closures of some government offices may impact you/us.

The Court system of Kern County is running on bare bones during this time. They have extended the time frame past the end of March to April 10th. I’m sure they will update as they go along, making adjustments where necessary.

Please see the official notice as of March 24, 2020 below.

What if I have a case in court?

You can look for your case HERE.

Enter your last name, first name (LAST NAME COMMA FIRST NAME), or enter you case number. You will find all the information you need.

I had a hearing scheduled for April 15, and when I went to verify, it has been rescheduled, but no future date has been assigned. Our already impacted probate department case schedule is not helped at all by this public crisis, so I anticipate having to wait even longer for hearing dates this year. The norm for last year on a final petition was 4-5 months. I am guessing it will be closer to 6 months at the soonest now that there has been a massive delay in hearings.

It is what it is, and we will still be working behind the scenes during this time to move forward what we can move forward. We anticipate being able to meet with clients again April 15, but will keep an eye on public health and government suggestions. At that time, we may have to open on a limited basis to allow disinfecting of the office between clients.

As a reminder, our office is closed to the public until that time. Please stay home as much as possible so we can all get back to work as soon as possible. If you would like to make an appointment, please call and leave a message. We will check the phones twice a week and make phone calls back as needed.

Holiday Closure…

Our office will be closed for two weeks during the holiday season. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause…but we will be back in the office on Tuesday, January 07, 2020. You can always call and leave a message and we will get back to you then.

Holiday Schedule Updates

The holiday season is coming up, and I wanted to let you know when the office will be closed so that we can all plan accordingly.

October: Normal business hours and days.

November: We will be closed from Friday the 22nd through December 02, opening again on Tuesday, December 03.

December: We will be closed Friday the 20th through Wednesday, January 01, returning on Thursday, January 02, 2020.

What is Conservatorship, and How Do I Avoid it?

Conservatorship is a court process wherein someone is granted permission to take care of another adult. This can be in the form of a limited conservatorship, which covers those persons over the age of 18, but who have mental disabilities that do not allow them to sign paperwork, or it could be a general conservatorship which covers adults who have lost the capacity to care for themselves either physically or financially.

Conservatorships are costly and time consuming. And of course, it means the court is in your family business, watching everything that happens to you. There are the initial hearings and paperwork, and then there are yearly accountings if your estate is involved. A bond is required for the person who is asking to be appointed to care for you.

How Can a Conservatorship Be Avoided?

Avoiding a conservatorship is fairly easy. A person needs to correctly fill out a Durable Power of Attorney form and an Advanced Healthcare form. I do not provide a link to the many free forms available online because I don’t want to be biased. In your searching, just make sure it is written for California. (Please understand this does not apply to a limited conservatorship. You must have capacity in order to sign documents. That is a complicated area of law. Please consult an attorney on whether or not a limited conservatorship might be right in your situation.)

Also, if you fill these forms out incorrectly, you will still be looking at the inside of a courtroom to fix them later. When you do anything yourself, whether it is fixing a leaky sink or your own legal work, it is important to know what you are doing and to do it right the first time. Doing it incorrectly could lead to a more expensive and time consuming problem later.

Hours and Location Update

My office is located at 5104 Lake Isabella Blvd, Suite B., Lake Isabella, CA. I serve the Kern River Valley area. I also serve Ridgecrest, CA on a limited basis, but that availability will open more in January/February 2020. I can only meet by appointments at this time…please no drop ins as my current office does not have a waiting area.

At this time, I am closed on Mondays, and Fridays are a limited work day due parts of my job requiring me to go to Bakersfield to drop off and pick up court and recorder’s office related paperwork.

You might need probate if…

  • someone you love has passed away and their real property is sitting there, unable to be sold, unable to be transfered.
  • someone you love has passed away and they have assets in their bank accounts, or stock accounts, and they won’t release the funds.

What You Need to Know First

There are TWO things you need to do first. Now that I say that, let’s make it THREE things. These steps aren’t very hard.

1.) Make a list of the property left behind.

2.) Determine if any of the property on the list transfers straight to anyone else because they are a named beneficiary, or joint owner. These things do not need probate at all.

3.) Look at what is left on the list. These are the things that might need probate.

Next Steps

  • If there is an account or personal property that is worth less than $166,250.00, then a small estate affidavit can be used. (Probate Code 13100) You can find a sample form HERE for free.
  • If there is personal property worth more than $166,250.00, then it has to go through probate court.
  • If there is real property at all…it will require some kind of probate. If the property is worth $55,425 or less, a simplified process can be done. The filing fee is $45 with the court. The form for this can be found HERE. Please note, you have to have the property appraised by the probate referee first. In Kern County, his name is Michael Burger.
  • If there is real property that is worth between $55,425-$166,250.00, another “simplified” process can be used. This one requires a hearing, and the filing fee is $435. You can find the paperwork for this HERE.
  • If there is real property that is worth more than $166,250.00…then you must go through a full probate. That is the most complex of the three processes.

Also, please keep in mind, that in some cases, even if the house is worth less than $166,250 and it qualifies for a more simplified process, the situation may require the oversight of the court for the protection of the heirs. Also, while there are “simplified” processes, these are not always easy. Take a look at your options yourself, first. You may decide to call an attorney to handle the paperwork for you.

I am happy to help clients in the Kern Valley, Ridgecrest, and Bakersfield areas handle their non-litigation probate matters. My office is located in Lake Isabella, but I work with clients from all over, utilizing technology to get things done as efficiently as possible.

Book Recommendation: Estate Planning for the Sandwich Generation

Note: I receive no money, or any other type of gift from posting about this book.

I have a book recommendation for ANYONE who is wondering about where to begin for their personal estate planning, or for a loved ones future plans. 

Earlier this year, I was asked to review, preview, and give feedback on a book written by a fellow attorney. Catherine Hodder, Esq. reached out to me and interviewed me for her website back in April/May of 2017. You can read that HERE. I have never met with Catherine in person, or even talked to her over the phone. But, I like her. She’s smart. I know this because she wrote a very informative, accurate, and easy to read book about a topic that most people don’t understand.  She did an excellent job of breaking down the “legal stuff” and wrote a book about Estate Planning that 1.) does not put you to sleep; 2.) is written for everyday people, not lawyers; and 3.) is extremely well written, and targets those people who have aging parents and growing kids. 

“Estate Planning for the Sandwich Generation: How to Help Your Parents and Protect Your Kids” is a book I wish I had had the time to write. But, now I don’t have to worry about writing a book because Catherine captured everything I wish my current and future clients knew. 

If you are interested in a copy of the book, you can find it on Amazon, or by clicking the following link: Estate Planning for the Sandwich Generation.

Also, I received a shout out in the Acknowledgments. 

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is thinking about wills, revocable living trusts, powers of attorneys, advanced healthcare directives, etc. 

Medi-Cal Qualifications: what do I need to know?

There is a lot of misinformation about qualifying for Medi-Cal for long term care help. Many people hear, “You can only have $2000. Get rid of the rest.”

Also, many people think you can hide assets from Medi-Cal. It has been my personal experience that they know everything. You can’t hide your cash or your financial history from them.

The truth is, spending down your assets is not that simple. Medi-Cal categorizes your assets into countable and non-countable assets. Non-countable assets are sometimes called exempt assets.

For example, you can own a home and a car, and still qualify for Medi-Cal. The principle balance on your IRA is not countable. (But the income is.)

There are too many variables for each individual’s situation to be able to give advice here, but below is a short list of facts, and a link to a three page fact sheet that I’ve put together to give you a foundational knowledge. 

1.) Currently, there is a 30 month look back period. This means that even if you use a valid form of transfer (proper gifting, or an irrevocable trust), Medi-Cal will look back for 30 months and see what you did. If you wait for month 31+ to apply for Medi-Cal, this will be no big deal. But if you apply before the look back period is up, you will not qualify AND be “grounded” for a period of time. WHY? Medi-Cal is the state and federal government, which is taxpayer money, and if you have the cash assets, their thinking is, “Why does the taxpayer need to pay for your care if you can do some of it yourself?” It is assumed that the California legislature will finish passing regulations in 2019 that makes this look back period 60 months (5 years). Planning ahead is a must here.

2.) After you pass away, if your home is in a revocable living trust, Medi-Cal will not seek repayment via your home. That goes for any other asset you have that is not part of your probate estate. (Yet another good reason to form a trust if you own real property.)

3.) If you are married and your spouse needs help with long term care, your local Medi-Cal representative can help you apply. You will not be left in the cold.

Click the link above to download a fact sheet for your convenience.