Shafae Law

Shafae Law

Shafae Law is a boutique law firm providing comprehensive estate planning, trust, estate, probate, and trust administration services located in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Filtering by Tag: probate

What is... Probate?

This is part of an on-going series of blog posts titled the "What Is..." series, where we attempt to explain, in simple terms, common estate planning terms and concepts. To read other posts in this series, click here.

You’ve probably heard the term probate, and you know there’s something that’s not good about it. But what is it?

Probate refers to the division of the Superior Court of California that handles issues related to conservatorship/incapacity, guardianship, or death. Each county in California has its own probate division.

Conservatorship: Conservatorships are legal proceedings that refer to a scenario where an adult can no longer make her own decisions, such as in the case of dementia or coma. If a loved one becomes incapacitated (e.g. through a sudden car accident, or stroke), someone will need to petition the probate court to be granted the legal authority to act on the loved one’s behalf. With this authority, that person (called a conservator) is able to call the insurance company or handle your loved one’s finances. A few considerations:

  • Conservatorships take time. Each county typically has only one probate judge. So if a crisis arises, and someone needs to be conserved, it can often take 6-8 weeks in a busy county to get that first court hearing.

  • Conservatorships are also expensive. The conservator must show the court that the incapacitated person’s money is being wisely spent. These accountings can take $3,000-$5,000 to prepare. And they’re required to be filed every year, or every other year. That’s not even mentioning the legal fees for hiring the specialized attorney you would need for these types of proceedings.

  • Conservatorships are also public court proceedings. It can often be humiliating to the person being conserved.

Thankfully, you can avoid the need for a conservatorship by planning ahead and creating a durable power of attorney and a trust.

Guardianship: Guardianships are legal proceedings that refer to minor children (anyone under 18 years old) who have either become orphaned or removed from their parents. Those children now need someone with the legal authority to act as the child’s parents. Only a court can give someone such legal authority. By planning ahead, you can nominate in your will who those guardians are in the event guardianship proceedings are necessary for your young children. You certainly do not want to leave such an important decision to the busy members of the probate court who do not know you or your children.

Death: When someone dies, the state needs to ensure that the person’s debts are handled (e.g., outstanding credit card debt, other loans, utilities, funeral and medical expenses), and that any remaining assets reach the dead person’s rightful heirs.

  • Like any other court proceeding, this is a public forum in which your debts and assets are uncovered.

  • Probate takes a long time. It often takes 18-24 months for heirs to receive any of the deceased person’s property. That means that if there are young children relying on their parents’ property to survive, it can take months or years before they see a penny.

  • In addition to the lengthy time that probate takes, it can also be costly. Probate fees--the compensation due to the representative of the estate and her attorney--are set by statute and are calculated based on the gross value of the estate. For example, a $1 million estate in California may generate as much as $46,000 in probate fees!

Most people want to avoid the time, expense, and public humiliation associated with probate court. By creating a comprehensive estate plan, including a trust, will, and power of attorney, you can avoid probate altogether at a fraction of the cost. Don’t wait until it’s too late.

What is... a Living Trust?

This is part of an on-going series of blog posts titled the "What Is..." series, where we attempt to explain, in simple terms, common estate planning terms and concepts. To read other posts in this series, click here.

At its core, a trust is a legal arrangement that deals with the ownership and management of property, both real estate (like your home) and personal property (e.g., jewelry, cash, bank accounts, your socks). The trust defines how property named in the trust is owned, who can control and manage it, and what type of control can be exercised over it. A trust also directs what happens to the property in it after the person or people who made the trust dies.

While there are different types of trusts, this post focuses on a “living trust,” also known as a “revocable trust,” because it is the most common type of trust used in estate planning. It’s a type of trust that you can amend, or make changes to, during your life.

One way to think about a living trust is that it is a box that you put your property in. After you put property into the box,  the box now has the value of everything you put in it. The box is controlled by a legal document with special instructions detailing who can reach into the box to add or remove property, how the property in the box must be handled, who benefits from the contents, and who ultimately gets the contents of the box. This legal document is the trust document signed by the person or people creating the trust. The trust document is just a fancy contract defining the rules surrounding property placed in the box.

Control and management of the property in the box is also very important. Initially, control is usually reserved for the people who put their property into the box. The people who put the property into the box are called “trustors.” The trust document specifies who can manage (sell, gift, invest, purchase) the contents in the box. The managers are called “trustees.” Because people who put property into the box usually want to control the contents while they are living, the trustors are usually also the initial trustees. You can have more than one job at the same time.

But what if something happens to the trustees--maybe they don’t have the ability to take care of the property in the box or they die? Who is going to take care of the property? In this situation the trust document will appoint what is called a “successor trustee” who is given access to the trust box contents when the initial trustees are unable. The trust document will also direct how the successor trustee must handle property in the box, and who should receive the property in it when the trustors die.

A typical living trust benefits the trustors (remember, those are the people who created the trust and supplied property into the box) while they are alive. So along with being the trustors and the initial trustees, they will also benefit from the contents of the box. They are the “beneficiaries” of the trust. Once the trustors have died, the trustors have described in the trust document who will become the beneficiaries of the contents of the box.

Ultimately, if created properly, a living trust ensures the property in the box will benefit the trustors during their lifetimes, that the property will be safely in the hands of trustees that will care for the property, and that the property will be distributed to beneficiaries according to the trustors wishes when they die. It’s a seamless transition that avoids the time, expense, and public process that is probate court (which is a court process that takes place if you die with only a will or with nothing in place). If the trustors have young children when the trustors die, a living trust can contain a comprehensive set of instructions for how to care for those young children with the property in the box.

Of course a living trust has more nuances and complexities than is described here. The success of any estate plan depends on it being carefully crafted to address individual desires and situations. We provide a free initial consultation where we can help you decide whether a living trust, or other type of estate plan, will best serve you.

What is... Intestacy?

This is part of an on-going series of blog posts titled the "What Is..." series, where we attempt to explain, in simple terms, common estate planning terms and concepts. To read other posts in this series, click here.

Simply put, intestacy is the word to describe what happens to your property when you die without a will. Intestacy is the state’s default method of determining your beneficiaries. This default is determined by the state in which you reside at the time you die (not the location of your death, say, if you die on vacation). If you reside in California when you die, and you don’t have a will, then the State of California has decided that your property goes to your surviving spouse (if you have one), if not, then to your children (if you have any), if not, then to your parents (if they’re still alive), if not, then to your siblings, then to your nieces/nephews, then to your uncles/aunts, then to your cousins, and on and on and on until someone in your family receives your property.

What if you literally have no other family by the time you die? Well, in that case, if you have no living relatives, the State of California will become the beneficiary.

Some people might look at the above and think,  “Yes! That’s what I would want anyway! So why do I need a will?” A will is more than just how you are giving away your things. It’s used for selecting a guardian for your minor children. It’s also where you would nominate the person who would handle closing all of your final affairs. This person is called an executor. Think of  the person paying for final bills (like an outstanding credit card bill or electric bill), who determines what to do with all of your knick-knacks, and other affairs of a personal nature. If you have a living trust, a will is necessary to ensure that all of the assets you never got around to transferring into your trust end up in your trust (called a “pour over will”).

If you die intestate (remember, that means without a will), none of your friends, girlfriend or boyfriend, or favorite charities will receive anything. Those people aren’t considered your relatives in the default scenario. Also, once your property passes on to someone else, you have no control what happens to it after that. Your property is now a part of that person’s estate and not yours. So, for example, if you wanted your things to go to your nieces/nephews but not to your siblings, you don’t get to control that if you die intestate. Intestacy goes in the order described above only.

The good news is that intestacy is a completely preventable situation! During your life you can create an estate plan (definitely a will and maybe a trust, depending on your situation) that will ensure that your assets go to the people or organizations you want them to go to. You also get to choose who gets to handle all of your final affairs, and to provide to them clear instructions.  

To determine what kind of estate plan you and your family needs, please contact us for a free initial consultation.


303 Twin Dolphin Drive
Suite 600
Redwood City, California 94065

12100 Wilshire Boulevard
Suite 800
Los Angeles, California 90025


Office Hours

Monday - Friday
9AM - 5PM

☎ Contact
(650) 389-9797
(310) 526-0298