Wills, estates, and advance care planning

If you're worried about what can happen if you or someone you love becomes sick or dies, now is a good time to make or update important documents, like a will, a trust, a power of attorney, and an advance health care directive.

Estate planning

Estate planning

Estate planning is for everyone, not just wealthy people 

The plan documents help you manage your life while you're still alive, not just at your passing. 

While you are alive: You might need someone to help make sure your rent, mortgage, or other bills get paid. You might need someone to talk to your doctors when you are temporarily too sick to do so. Both of these are normal situations that can happen in our lives. An advance health care directive and power of attorney document can help you prepare for the unexpected as part of an estate plan. 

Do you have kids? You might want to make sure someone is entrusted with speaking to the school or helping with health decisions for your child if you are temporarily unavailable. These are also estate planning decisions and you can create documents to address this.

Do you own a home? A living trust is part of an estate plan. It helps you make sure the home goes to the people you want after your death without them going to probate court and waiting for a judge to decide who gets your home. The fastest that can happen in California is typically 9 months, and that length of time can create problems for your loved ones. A living trust helps loved ones bypass this long waiting period as well as the expense of probate court.

Do you have a bank account? Maybe you have personal belongings you want to be sure get to a loved one. Making an estate plan helps you make sure your belongings go where you want.

Legal documents

It's wise to put your wishes in writing

There are no court forms to do this, but you can find free legal forms online to help you. Some of the forms let you name someone you trust to make healthcare and financial decisions for you if you become too sick to do so yourself. Other forms say what you want if you become very ill or injured and upon your death. Sometimes, these are called end-of-life or estate planning documents.

The documents are very important and should be done right

You may want to have a lawyer help you or at least review the forms you create for your situation. There are some not-for-profit organizations, like HERA, that offer free to low-cost estate planning services.

Select a topic to get more information and sample forms:

Power of Attorney for Finances and Property

The California Statutory Power of Attorney form lets you appoint someone you trust to handle some or all your financial, real estate, tax, or other matters. You decide which ones. You can specify the period of time the person will have control. For example, will they have control only when you are too sick to do those things yourself or right now?

Powers of attorney are very important documents that can give someone a lot of power over your finances. It is very helpful to have a lawyer prepare it for you, or at least review one you wrote yourself. 

Advance Health Care Directive

The California Advance Health Care Directive lets you decide what kind of health care you would want if you cannot speak for yourself. It includes decisions about pain relief and end-of-life treatment. It includes the care that you will want and the types of treatment that you will not want. It also lets you appoint an agent to communicate your wishes. 

The form we have provided is just one example. You can search online for "advance health care directive" and get a lot of helpful information for details to include in your form and sample wording you may prefer for your situation.

Once you have an advance health care directive, make sure you give a copy to your health care provider.

Caregiver's Authorization Affidavit

This form allows the person caring for your child to enroll the child in school. If the caregiver is a relative, the form also lets the caregiver get medical care for the child.


You may need something formal and ordered by the court. A guardianship appoints someone, a guardian, to take custody of your child if you and the other parent cannot care for your child. It does not have to be permanent. If you become able to care for your child again, you can ask the court to end the guardianship. This Guide has step-by-step instructions for guardianship cases.


A will is a legal document that says how you want your property distributed when you die. You can write up your own will, hire a lawyer to write a will for you, or you can use a California Statutory Will form, which is a simple will for people with relatively small estates.

The California Statutory Will form lets you appoint an executor to make sure your wishes are carried out. This form also lets you indicate who will inherit your assets when you die. Assets can include money, accounts, real property, and other property, such as your car or furniture. 

You can also handwrite a will in California. You can use the statutory will form as a template, but write out everything by hand, and then sign and date the will. That is called a holographic will and you don’t need a witness.

  • If the total value of these assets is more than $184,500, the executor will have to go to Probate Court to open a probate case. Probate Code §6240
  • If the total value of these assets is $184,500 or less, the executor may not have to go to Probate Court. Read about simple procedures to transfer property that may work for you.

Living Trusts

A living trust is a legal document that you create where you designate a person (the successor trustee) to be eventually responsible for managing your assets in the best interests of beneficiaries you list. When you die, as long as you have put your assets into the trust, they should go to the beneficiaries without having to go to probate court.

Living trusts are complicated and you usually need to have a lawyer help you. Search online for "living trusts" to learn a lot more about how they work.

Payable on Death Account

A payable-on-death account allows you to let your bank know who should inherit the money in that account when you die. It allows the person you want to have the money (your beneficiary) to inherit the money without having to go to probate court. While you’re alive, your beneficiary has no rights to the money, and if you change your mind and want to change beneficiaries, you can do that.

When you pass away, your beneficiary just needs your death certificate and proof of their identity to claim the money in the account.

Transfer on Death Deeds (TOD Deed)

You can use a Transfer on Death (TOD) deed to add family members as beneficiaries to your real property so that, when you die, those family members can get the property without going to probate court. TOD deeds may be a good idea if your main asset is your home and there are little or no other significant assets that have to be distributed. That’s because a living trust, which would deal with several different types of assets, can be complicated and expensive to create since you would likely need a lawyer.

A TOD deed allows you to fill out a simple form, notarize it, and record it with the County Recorder’s Office. In the TOD deed, you name a person or people to receive the real property when you die. They would be your beneficiaries. And, if you change your mind, you can revoke the TOD deed.  When you pass away, your beneficiaries would have to fill out an Affidavit of Death of Transferor under TOD deed, have it notarized and recorded, and they would receive the real property.

Rules for signing the documents

illustration of a signature

For most of these forms to be valid, you must sign in front of either a notary or 2 witnesses who are not involved in your estate.


A notary is an official who checks the identification of a person signing a document. They check your identification, make a written record of the signing, and give you a certificate (called an acknowledgement). It costs about $15.00 to have a signature notarized.

Many shipping or mailing stores have notaries. You can also find one online.

Once your documents are signed

Once you have your forms and documents done, make sure that the person you choose to manage your finances, care for you, or manage your property if you die:

  •    Has given you permission to nominate them

  • Has a copy of your planning documents
  • Has a way to access your accounts and other important information you may have on your computer, at your home, or in a safety deposit box
  • Knows where you keep your important papers

 It can be helpful to make sure your loved ones know of your wishes and have copies of your papers.

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