My mother is in her Late 70's and is wanting to get everything together before she deceases. She does not have much, in terms of worldly possessions, but she does not want to die intestate. Any other suggestions would be great.
Hi Matthew! As laws vary between the states, I really recommend that your mother take the time to speak with an attorney to get her affairs in order. In addition to having a will, she may want a general power of attorney and health care proxy paperwork.
The Red Cross has developed a great workbook to use when thinking about getting your affairs together. The linke is: http://www.redcrosslegacy.org/pdf/RedCrossWorkbook.pdf
It does have a charitable focus, but works well for everyone planning their last wishes. It does not replace a will, so be sure to get with an attorney to have that done.
If you are still looking for an answer to this question, "California Estate Law: Wills and Trusts Made Easy: Make Your Own Will, Trust, Power of Attorney Over Financial Affairs, and Advance Healthcare Directive" by Brenda J Edwards JD looks like a book to consider. It was published in 2015 so it is up to date. Also, it only has 90 pages.
An estate planning book may be a good idea, but one of the problems is that estate tax law has changed considerably within the past 4 years. So you really need a fairly recent book. All of the books I have seen are relatively long. Estate planning is an area where you really need an attorney to help you or your mother with her documents and advice on the best thing to do.
Everyone needs a will, a living will or health care proxy, and a power of attorney. But not everyone needs very complicated estate planning. Besides these documents, estate planning also deals with how assets are titled, and how beneficiaries are listed on accounts and insurance policies. A financial planner can help you with advice on a lot of this, but you need a lawyer for the legal documents. How expensive all this is relates to how big the estate is and how complicated the estate planning needs to be. Note that the federal estate tax exclusion for 2014 is $5,340,000 and there is no California estate tax. So if your mother's estate is worth less than that, then she will pay no estate tax. If your mother's estate is under this value it does not mean that she does not need estate planning, it just means that estate planning has more to do with non-tax issues.
Pam is right that California is a community property state, but if your mother is not married, that won't matter.
Also note that a lot of people advertise about avoiding probate. There are reasons why that's a good idea, but its less important than you think. Probate is simply the process of a court overseeing the distribution of assets and the administration of the estate. If the will was created and executed properly and was written well, then probate is not a big deal.
Matthew, a simple will should not be an expensive proposition. There are a number of other issues that you and your mother should be aware of. After a quarter-century experience helping people cope with the death of a relative I wrote a set of books: BEFORE I GO, and BEFORE I GO WORKBOOK. You can see the first three chapter of BEFORE I GO at our firm's website. www.korvingco.com