Dear Len & Rosie,
I am married, and we have a 10 month old boy. We both work, but live paycheck to paycheck. We have a mobile home, which I bought before I met my wife. If anything happens to me, the house is hers. I do not even mind putting her on title. Now that we have a child, what paperwork should we be doing? Also, what paperwork do we need to do to say what we want to happen with our son if something happens to both of us?
You and your wife do not need a trust, because you do not have an estate subject to probate in the courts. An estate worth less than $150,000 can be collected using small estate affidavits under California Probate Code section 13101, and the value of your automobiles and mobile home do not count against that limit.
What you need are wills, and the cheapest way to get one is to get one for free. If you do an internet search for “California Statutory Will” you will find direct links to a free form will written by the California Legislature. It’s available at the State Bar webpage under consumer information at www.calbar.ca.gov.
Be careful filling out the form. You want your estate passing to your wife if she survives you and then to your children if she does not. The form also allows you to nominate guardians who will have custody of your minor children if your wife dies before you. Her will should mirror yours. The wills must be witnessed by two adults who are not inheriting from you. Please note that in California, wills are never notarized.
In addition to wills, you and your wife should have Advance Health Care Directives andDurable Powers of Attorney so that you may make important medical and financial decisions for one another in the event one of you should become incapacitated.
You should be able to get Advance Health Care Directive forms from your medical provider, or just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll send one to you. AHCD’s should be witnessed by two adults, one of whom can’t be related to you or inherit from you, or you can skip the witnesses and just have it notarized.
For your DPOA’s, there’s a California Statutory Durable General Power of Attorney form you can search for on the internet. It’s good for most purposes and should be signed before a Notary Public.
Keep in mind the risk of doing your own estate plan. You may make mistakes without knowing that you did, and not having an attorney review your completed documents does put you at risk that your estate plan won’t work the way you want it to.
Len & Rosie