Common Scenarios in California Probate Cases

In prior posts, I’ve gone over how to make a will in California as well as what happens to your stuff in the event you die without a will. The former is, hopefully, pretty useful. The latter is hopefully useful too, if only to give you something to avoid. Let’s suppose, however, that you’ve made a will. This post will briefly go over what will happen to that will in the event you do pass away. Or, if you want to think of it this way, this is the situation your friends, family, heirs, etc will have to deal with once you’re gone. Because it would be too easy otherwise, there are actually several scenarios that commonly occur in California. I’ll try my best to go over each of them and introduce the terms that apply to those situations. One thing to remember is that the goal will be to handle, take care of, or dispose of the deceased’s estate. The legal term for this is “administration”. The authority to administer a deceased’s estate arises from the issuance of “letters” under California Probate Code section 8400(a). Scenario #1 is where the deceased died without a will of any kind. This is called “intestacy” or “intestate succession” and, in a previous post, I went over how California handles that. The letters applicable to this situation are “Letters of Administration”. Scenario #2 is when the deceased person died with a will, the will names someone to administer the deceased’s estate, and the person is able and willing to serve. Such a person is called an executor if they are male and...

How to Make a Will in California

We’ve probably all seen a movie or TV show with a scene where someone is dying and trying to make a will. Usually, this involves the person saying a line like “I, John Smith, being of sound mind and body, do make this my last will and testament…” Hollywood artistic license plays a large part in what you see on TV and in the movies, but the question of how to make a will is a good one. A post of two ago, I went over what happens to your stuff if you die without a will. Human nature makes it difficult for most people to imagine themselves dying, but death happens to all of us. Making a will doesn’t mean you hope to die, but it does make it easier for your friends and family or whoever else has to deal with the aftermath of you passing away. Having a will also makes it more likely that the stuff you’ve worked hard for and accumulated over your life actually goes to the people that you want to get it. In the United States, the laws and procedures by which you make a will are determined by each state. In California, the process to make a will is described in California Probate Code Section 6110 which specifies the following requirements. The person making the will is called the “testator”. Writing a will is also unlike writing any other document because the person who knows the most about the document (i.e. the will) will be dead by the time any questions arise about what this phrase or that phrase in...

Long-Term and Short-Term Marriages in California

If you’re in California and either contemplating a divorce or just learning about them just in case, one important distinction to know is whether your marriage is “short-term” or “long-term”. As I’ll explain, it’s not a difficult distinction to keep straight, but it is important to know for at least two reasons: (1) different rules apply depending on which category your case is in, and (2) lawyers and judges will often use the words “short-term” and “long-term” very casually so it’s important to know what they mean. Simply put, a marriage is “short-term” is generally one that is less than 10 years in duration. Conversely, a marriage is generally “long-term” if it is 10 or more years in duration. See California Family Code section 4336(b). This 10-year mark is not set in stone, though. It is possible for a long-term marriage to be less than 10 years long and for a marriage longer than 10 years long to be considered short-term. As with many things in the law, it all depends on the situation. There are many areas in which this short versus long distinction is important. The most common one I see is when it comes to determining permanent spousal support under California Family Code section 4320, specifically section 4320(l). If your marriage is short-term, section 4320(l) can place a limit on the duration of permanent spousal support of half the length of the marriage. If your marriage is long-term, then this “half the length” limitation may not apply. As I said earlier, though, there is no way to say for sure whether your marriage is long or...

What if you die without a will? California Intestate Succession

A will and/or a trust is probably something that a lot of people hear that they should have. Most people probably don’t, however, because human nature is that way. In this blog post, I’m going to go over what happens if you die without any estate planning documents at all. Any one of us can, unfortunately, die all of a sudden so this post is likely not as theoretical as a lot of us would like to think. I’m going to talk specifically about California, but the concept I’ll go over (i.e. Intestate Succession) is not unique to California. Other states in the US recognize it also. As always, however, if you’re outside of California, you need to look up the particular rules for Intestate Succession in your state. In describing what happens to you if you die without a will or a trust, I’ll also illustrate one of the reasons why you should not wait to get divorced. Intestate Succession Intestate succession is the generic term for what happens if you die without a will or a trust. As a reminder, California has specific requirements that a will and a trust have to meet in order to be valid. If your will or trust doesn’t meet those requirements and you die, it’s like you didn’t have a will or trust at all. Intestate Succession is a set of rules that governs who gets your stuff when you die. If you leave a will or a trust, you can specify who you want (or don’t want, as the case may be) to get your stuff. You can leave things...

California Child Custody Timeshare

In a divorce case, one of the big things that the courts in California will decide is custody and visitation of any minor children that the divorcing parties may have. I haven’t checked, but this is probably not unique to California. As always, check the laws of your particular state or country, but if you’re in the United States but outside of California, the court presiding over a divorce will likely determine child custody and visitation also. To be clear, custody and visitation are not interchangeable terms. As they are commonly used in California, “visitation” refers to the schedule by which the child will visit with the parent they do not regularly live with. For instance, if the child lives with Mom regularly, then visitation refers to the schedule under which the child visits with Dad. There could be a visitation schedule for regular or routine weeks and a different schedule for other times of the year, such as holidays and the child’s summer vacation from school. Custody — again, as used in California — refers to two kinds: (1) legal custody, and (2) physical custody. Legal custody refers to the right of a parent to decide things related to the child’s schooling, medical care, and religious education. As a rule of thumb, legal custody is at play whenever a parent has to sign a permission slip (e.g school field trip) of some kind for the child to do something. Physical custody refers to who the child lives with. A common custody arrangement might, therefore, be “shared legal custody and primary physical custody to Mom with Dad having visitation”....

Property Division in New York Divorces (NY Domestic Relations Law section 236(B))

California is a community property state when it comes to divorces. The idea of community property is not difficult to understand in the abstract — colloquially, you might have heard it as the rule that in a divorce, you get (or lose) of the stuff. See California Family Code section 2550. Property is basically put in to one of three categories: (1) stuff owned by spouse #1 from before the marriage, (2) stuff owned by spouse #2 from before the marriage, and (3) stuff that the two spouses acquired while they were married. The property in category (3) is divided in half — again see California Family Code section 2550 — while the property in (1) and (2) goes to each spouse respectively. Applying the idea of community property in the real world is not so simple. First, the spouses will argue about which category (1, 2, or 3) a particular piece of property falls in to. Second, if each spouse acquires property after they separate, determining when that property was acquired relative to the separation date can also be argued about, sometimes extensively. Third, it can often be confusing, such as when property was purchased prior to the marriage and financed or paid for partly during the marriage. Houses often fall in to this category. If you’re dealing with a California divorce where a house was purchased by one spouse before the marriage, but the mortgage was paid for during the marriage, you may be interested in something called a Moore-Marsden computation. Community property in divorces is the exception rather than the rule in the United States. The...

California Vehicle License Plates – Front and Back?

In California, are license plates required to be on both the front and back of a car? This question comes up every now and again, usually by those who have bought a car, but don’t like the aesthetics of having a license plate on the front of the car also. As with any argument about cars, people hold passionately to their views. Regardless of which side of the argument you fall on, what ultimately matters for your pocketbook is what a police officer can ticket you for. If you’ve bought a new car in California, you’ve likely received — or will receive — this envelope from the California Department of Motor Vehicles containing your license plates. The law that the envelope refers to is California Vehicle Code section 5200. The general rule regarding where you display your license plates depends on how many license plates the California Department of Motor Vehicles gives you. If you receive two, then one goes on the front of your car and one goes on the rear. That’s California Vehicle Code section 5200(a). If you only receive one, then it has to go on the back of your vehicle. That’s section 5200(b). If you think you’ve only received one plate, check to make sure that they aren’t just stuck together. Oh, and in case you’ve ever wondered, yes, license plates — at least in California — are made by prison inmates. Here’s the website of the California Prison Industry Authority....

Selling a Used Car in California – Smog Tests

If you’re shopping for a used car in California, something you might be wondering about — and if you’re not wondering about it, you should for the reasons I’ll describe — is whether or not a smog check needs to be done. If you’re looking on a website like Craigslist where anyone can post a vehicle for sale, for example, you might see a lot of ads where the seller says: The smog test is the buyer’s responsibility, The vehicle passed smog “6 months ago”, or The vehicle is “smog ready” I’ve always assumed that “smog ready” means the vehicle can pass a smog test which, if you think about it, could have two possible meanings: (1) the vehicle will pass smog and the seller agrees to do that as a condition of the sale, or (2) the vehicle will allegedly pass smog, but the buyer has to buy the car first and bear the risk of it not actually passing smog. So the question for this blog post is this: what is the rule about smog tests when you’re buying a new car in California? Two things before we dive in to the answer: First, if you’re not in California and don’t know what a smog test is, it’s an emissions test that your car has to pass in order to get registered in California. Smog tests are, thus, an air pollution control measure. If your car can’t pass a smog test and you can’t fix it, then you cannot register it in California. Depending on your situation, you may be able to sell your car to your...

Sheriff v. Police?

The vast majority of people don’t have any dealings with law enforcement at all, aside from the occasional traffic ticket. To them, the term “police officer” refers to any uniformed local-level law enforcement officer. In California, at least, the term “police officer” technically refers only to those officers employed by the city, usually by a police department run by the city. Another uniformed local law enforcement officer in the US that you might encounter is a deputy sheriff. There are a number of differences between a deputy sheriff and a police officer. Deputy sheriffs work for the county. Police officers work for a city. If a crime occurs in a city, it falls to the police to take care of it. If a crime occurs in a county, but outside of a city that has its own police department, it falls to the sheriff’s department of that county to handle it. The sheriffs department will generally work pretty closely with the police departments of the cities in that county so this distinction may not be that big in practice. In California, the sheriffs department in a county is in charge of running the county jail as well as security at the county’s state courts. In California, the sheriffs department is also the one who is involved in the legal process of the courts. This includes serving legal papers (although this varies from county to county) and carrying out orders of the court, such as seizing property of a debtor or evicting a tenant. Of course, there are also a lot of similarities between deputy sheriffs and police officers, not...