California, like every state in the nation, has its own unique set of estate planning laws. If you have recently moved to California—or are planning to move away—you should ensure that your will, trust, and other estate documents comply with local statutes and regulations. While a will or other simple documents may not require major alterations, it is still a good idea to have an experienced California estate planning attorney review your plan to ensure that your legacy is passed down the way you want.
Why Your Estate Plan May Need Review
Even the most basic estate planning documents may require some changes after moving to another state. A will, for instance, may not need to be updated to remain valid; however, California’s Probate Code, along with state law, can present unexpected challenges if legal documents aren’t prepared properly. Here are two reasons your legal documents may need updating.
Community Property Rules in California
One of the most compelling reasons to review an estate plan relates to California’s community property rules. California is one of only nine states with a community property system. Under the community property doctrine, all assets acquired by a couple after marriage will be considered jointly owned—even if only one spouse has their name on a home mortgage or bank account.
While some couples may opt out of community property arrangements, the system does have its advantages. Many California couples who own a home will hold it as community property, since it can be sold without any capital gains penalty after one spouse passes away.
However, community property can also have disadvantages. Consider that:
- A spouse may have children from prior relationships and want their respective children to receive all or most of their individual assets
- One spouse may acquire an expensive gift of unusual value or sentimental importance after marriage and want to bequeath it to someone else upon death
- One partner is paying for a home, vehicle, or other asset and wants to retain full possession
An experienced California estate planning attorney can help new residents decide whether the system is right for them and what assets to exclude from joint ownership.
Out-of-State Wills and Executors
A will drafted in another state may still be considered valid in California, provided it was valid in the state where it was originally written. However, a will that does not meet California Probate Code requirements can make things difficult for an estate executor—especially if the estate executor does not live in California.
Out-of-state executors may struggle to gather the resources needed to prove that a will written somewhere other than California is valid. They will have to track down the attorney who drafted the first copy and obtain a declaration stating that the document is legal. If the attorney is no longer practicing law, has moved to another country, or has passed away, the executor may be left with few options.
Even if the executor can obtain a declaration, they will have to initiate probate proceedings in California. Since probate can be demanding and challenging, they will have to spend a lot of time away from home inventorying assets, filing paperwork, and resolving the estate’s outstanding debt before the matter can be closed.
Thus, even if an out-of-state will may be technically valid in California, it may be a bad idea to keep the same document without making alterations or designating a new executor.
How to Make the Right Changes
Adjusting an estate plan after moving to California does not have to be a complex or time-consuming ordeal. Anyone who has already written a will, established a trust, or appointed an estate executor has already done more estate planning than the majority of Americans.
Since the legal framework is already in place, the estate plan may only need minor revisions to make it compliant with state law.
After making an appointment with an experienced California estate planning attorney, new residents should bring whatever documents they already have to the initial consultation. This may include:
- Copies of a will or living will
- Copies of a living trust
- A list of beneficiary designations
- The names and location of anyone who has been assigned the durable, medical, and/or financial power(s) of attorney
Do You Need To Speak With An Attorney About Estate Planning?
If you need to speak with an experienced estate planning lawyer please contact us online or call us directly at 800.756.5596 to first register for one of our free, informative seminars. Your attendance will qualify you for a special discount for our estate planning services should you decide to make a free appointment at the conclusion of the seminar and choose to proceed with us. We proudly serve clients throughout California with offices in Torrance, Newport Beach, Orange, Woodland Hills and Pasadena.