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I, (say your name) understand that the FAQs and other legal information, news or articles are not individual legal advice that I can follow instead of getting my own attorney. I know that no attorney-client relationship is created until I have retained Margaret Norman. If I want her advice on anything I am going to have to visit her or make arrangements by phone. I promise not to send her documents unsolicited, and I promise not to call her and ask questions about documents she has never seen. When I do make an appointment, I promise to bring all the documents I want to ask her about.


 Q.       My Mom died without a will or trust, does the State of California get her property?

 A.        No, family members or a domestic partner can inherit, but it depends on what assets she has and how they are titled. If Mom left a house, bank accounts, etc. its time to visit a probate attorney to find out who inherits and how that is done.


Q.      What is probate?

A.        Probate is when the court supervises the processes that transfer legal title of property from the estate of the person who has died (the "decedent") to his or her beneficiaries. (Heirs) Sometimes a probate attorney can help you get title to property without a court process. It depends on what it is and how valuable it is. California has streamlined procedures to transfer property for estates worth under a certain amount. There is also an easy method to transfer property to a surviving spouse or a domestic partner. Our office does probate work and can solve this puzzle.


Q.        What is a domestic partner?

A.        In California if you are a man and a woman over 62 you can register as a Domestic Partnership if you prefer not to get married. If you are a same sex couple you can register as a Domestic Partnership. This gives you inheritance rights, and other rights, but it will open up an exciting world of family law battles if you decide its not such a good idea later. Its only $10 to register but can cost you thousands to get out of. Time to visit an attorney and discuss the pros and cons before you start worrying about which initials go on the towels.


Q.        My Dad hates attorneys so he wrote his own will. Is it any good?

A.        Women lawyers may have good intuition but I’m not psychic. You will have to make an appointment and let me see the will. California does allow handwritten wills. I probate several every year; you have to prove it’s the decedent’s handwriting among other things. Always bring in all of the wills.


Q.        My Dad died at 86; he has a new wife. He didn’t leave a will. Does she inherit everything?

A.        It depends on what he left, how its titled. Time to visit a probate attorney. California is a community property state, but that does not mean that everything Dad owned automatically belongs to the spouse.


Q.        My ladyfriend and I are over 62; we don’t want to get married, but we want to be able to keep the house and bank accounts we accumulated together and not have our greedy relatives try to take it all. What can we do?

A.        You need to visit an estate planning attorney. I can help you choose between a will or trust, make sure you have Health Care Powers of Attorney (advanced directives) and review other documents to make sure your assets are protected. Maybe a Domestic Partnership would also be a good idea. There are other possibilities, too. You also need to look at tax implications.


Q.        My brother died in California and left me 2 houses there. I live in Chicago, Illinois. What do I do?

A.        Thanks to DHL and Fed-Ex, our office is as close as the Loop. You can call and discuss this; ship the papers and we can proceed from there. You can be the Administrator or Executor of a California estate without leaving Cook County. No court in another state can give you title to California real estate, so a probate or trust administration has to be done in California.


Q.        My Dad died without a will. Can we do a trust for him to avoid probate?

A.        No, it’s a little late for that. You may not have to go to probate. It depends on what assets he left and who his heirs would be. A visit to a probate attorney does not mean you have to go to Probate court to inherit. It just means that I am more likely to give you the correct legal advice than your hairdresser or mechanic.


Q.        My ex-husband died. We had two kids together. We both did wills when we were married. Should I just tear up the will now that he’s dead?

A.        Step away from the shredder! Take the will to a probate attorney. Divorce doesn’t cancel a will. It may mean you won’t inherit, but your kids might. It depends on whether he married again and whether he had any assets, etc.


Q.        My thoroughbred horse Pokerito means a lot to me. How can I be sure he will be taken care of after my death? Does California allow a Pet Trust?

A.        California’s probate law allows you to make provisions for the care of your horse or any animal. Probate Code 15212. This needs to be done carefully and incorporated into your estate plan. I call it a Pet Trust but it should be much more than that. A trust for your dog or cat needs to provide for monitoring or you could end up giving money to somebody that would not provide for vet care, etc.