Law 101

Plan Your Estate

What exactly is estate planning?

Estate planning is the process of deciding who will get your property and how you would like it transferred after your death. It can also involve designating a guardian for young children or a representative to make financial and medical decisions for you if you become incapacitated.

Why would I want to avoid probate?

Probate is an official court proceeding in which the estate of the decedent is divided according to a will, if one exists, or state succession laws (California Probate Code §§ 6400 et seq.), if no will exists. It is also a lengthy process (approximately 9-14 months) and involves a lot of paperwork, time, and money. In addition, the documents filed in a probate proceeding are a matter of public record (California Rule of Court 2.400), and some may wish to avoid public scrutiny of their financial situation.


What are my options?

What’s the difference between a will and a living trust?

A will is a legal document that becomes effective upon your death and details how you want your property distributed. All property left in a will must go through probate court. A living trust, on the other hand, is in effect while you’re still living; you transfer property into the trust, yet you still have control of the trust and can make changes or additions. Property distributed via a living trust is generally not subject to probate.

What are some other options besides wills and trusts?

There are several alternatives to wills, and many people choose to have a combination of estate planning devices, such as a living trust, a “Payable on Delivery” (POD) bank account, in which funds automatically transfer to another in the case of death, or a “back-up” will. The resources in this guide provide information on these and other estate-planning tools.

Community Resources

Legal papers For Help
Elder and Health Law Clinic Senior Legal Hotline Capital Pro Bono
Need a Lawyer FInd a Lawyer


The Law Library provides some forms that may be used when planning your estate.

California Simple Will Statutory Form A simple will for single, married or divorced people with relatively small estates.
Legal forms Advanced Health Care Directive
Handshake Power of Attorney
Revoking a Power of Attorney

Research Guides

The Law Librarians have created these research guides as an aid for those starting a legal research project. These guides recommend print and electronic resources that will help you find answers to your law-related questions. Many guides also  provide step-by-step information, as well as sample forms, for common legal procedures.

Common Questions


The Law Librarians created these pamphlets in response to frequently asked questions on subjects not appropriate for more substantive guides.

Related Links

These websites provide information on common estate-planning topics.

Taxes. Transfer-on-Death Accounts and Registrations A simple, effective way to avoid probate for many types of assets.
Laptop on document stack Living Trust Mills
Do I Need a Will?
Do I Need a Living Trust?
Do I Need Estate Planning?
Hands typing Estate Planning Frequently-Asked-Questions answered by the Alameda County Probate Court.
Sale of real property Managing Someone Else’s Money