How to Give Your Heirs Quick Access to Your Accounts When You Die

A recent article published by MarketWatch,,  answered the question of how to give your heirs quick access to your accounts when you die.  This article will summarize the information in that article and give insights into various other estate planning tips for California estate plans. 

  •  Transfer on Death (TOD), Payable on Death (POD)

When opening a bank account or amending an existing account, you fill out a form either online or in person to make someone the payable on death beneficiary of the account. 

  • What if you have more than one person you want to designate?

Typically, you can designate as many people as you desire and you will allocate a percentage of the account that will go to each person. 

  •  What is the advantage of the TOD/POD?

While there is still some process involved (the beneficiary has to show the bank a certificate of death and the beneficiary’s identification), the advantage is that probate is avoided for this particular account. This saves time, money and inconvenience. 

  •  What about making your heir the joint owner on your account?

Another strategy is to designate your heir as the joint owner on your account. This has some advantages and disadvantages. On the upside, the heir can withdraw the money upon your death right away. The downside is that the heir can also withdraw the money anytime during your lifetime. It also subjects those funds to creditors of your heir during your lifetime. Because of these risks, a joint ownership plan is not the best for some families. For relationships with a very high level of trust, it might make sense. 

How to Help Your Loved Ones

There are many choices with estate planning in California, but the first step in helping your loved ones is to become informed of your options and get a plan in place. You’ll want to make sure any paperwork related to estate planning easily accessible to your loved ones and that it is up to date with any changes needed. At the Law Office of David Knecht we have extensive experience with estate planning in California and can help you get started or update your existing plan.  Contact us at 707-451-4502 for more information.  


Revocable Transfer on Death Deeds

A Revocable Transfer on Death Deeds, also known as a  “TOD” or “beneficiary deed” is a simple way to leave your residence to beneficiaries without the need for probate. A free form for this deed can be found here:

Because there are potential pitfalls with this type of deed, this article is not intended as a recommendation of Revocable Transfer on Death Deeds. We provide this information as education on this option. 

  •  What is a Revocable Transfer on Death Deed?

The current owner during their lifetime names beneficiaries. The deed has no effect until the death of the transferor, so the deed can be changed, the property can be sold or refinances, etc. When you die, the property does not need to go through probate, but your heirs will need to file or record certain documents. 

  •  What type of properties are eligible for Revocable Transfer on Death Deed?

A Revocable Transfer on Death Deed can only be used with a property with one to four residential dwelling or condominium units or a single family residence with less than 40 acres of land. 

  •  What are the advantages of a Revocable Transfer on Death Deed?

You can potentially avoid probate, provided that it was done correctly and there were no unexpected family changes. It is a simple process. It can be revoked during the lifetime of the transferor if you change your mind. There are some tax advantages. 

  • Have there been recent changes to the laws relating to Revocable Transfer on Death Deeds?

A recent Bill which you can access in its entirety here,, addressed some of the problems with Revocable Transfer on Death Deeds. 

 It states:  This bill would revise and recast those provisions, and instead make them operative until January 1, 2032. Among other things, the bill would redefine and newly define terms for these purposes, including, but not limited to, “beneficiary,” “real property,” “subscribing witness,” and “unsecured debts.” The bill would make changes to how and when a revocable TOD deed becomes effective or revoked, and would instead require the deed or revocation to be signed by the transferor, acknowledged by the transferor before a notary public, dated, and signed by 2 witnesses, as specified. The bill would add additional provisions to the statutory forms for executing and revoking a revocable TOD deed to conform to these changes, and would add additional information to the statutory “common questions” pages. The bill would require, after the death of a transferor, that the beneficiary serve notice on the transferor’s heirs, and would create a new statutory notice form for these purposes.


  • Where can I find out more information on how to properly execute a Revocable Transfer on Death Deed or discover whether there is a better mechanism to transfer my property to heirs?


At the Law Office of David Knecht we have extensive experience with estate planning in California. We can evaluate your assets and give you an opinion on whether a Revocable Transfer on Death Deed is right for you and your family. We will listen to your concerns and customize an estate plan that is advantageous to you and your loved ones. Contact us at 707-451-4502 for more information.  


5 Assets Not to Forget in a California Divorce

There are a few categories of assets that are sometimes missed by couples getting a divorce. This article will discuss five important asset classes to remember in a California divorce so that the division of assets is fair, accurate and equitable.  At the Law Office of David Knecht, at 707-451-4502, we have extensive experience in divorce in California and can help you with complex questions relating to valuation and division of assets in a California divorce.

Bitcoin, Ethereum, or other Cryptocurrency or alternative currency. 

With the popularity of investing in cryptocurrency greatly increasing, this is one important asset class to divide in a divorce.  Crypto assets can be missed because they can be traded through Venmo, or various platforms like Coinbase that the other spouse may not be aware of.  The timing on when it is purchased is important, as well as the issue of whether there were any gains made during the marriage.

Stock options. 


Stock options that are granted subject to employment can present a challenge when dividing assets in a divorce.  This can occur because the options may not have vested yet or the employment upon which the options were based may have occurred before the marriage as well as during the marriage.  Even though nonvested stock options may have no present market value, you may want to retain an interest in the shares and potential profits.  This area of family law can be very complex, and possibly the best way to position yourself well relating to stock options is to obtain advice from an experienced divorce attorney who can analyze and comment on your specific situation.

Stimulus money. 


If you received stimulus money during the course of your marriage, then this is an asset that can be split as part of the divorce settlement.

Pension plans. 


Some employers, particularly the state or federal government, still offer pension plans, and if these were earned during the marriage, it’s an important source of income not to forget in a divorce settlement.

Military Benefits. 

A service member’s military pension in an extremely valuable asset and can be divided just like any asset.  It is important to include military pensions and other military benefits in a division of assets.


At the Law Office of David Knecht, at 707-451-4502, we have extensive experience in divorce in California and can help you with complex questions relating to valuation and division of assets in a California divorce.


Can I Get More Money if My Spouse Cheated?

A commonly asked question in divorce is whether cheating can be used as leverage for the other spouse to get more money or custody in a divorce.  Cheating is typically defined as a physical relationship with a person who is not in the marriage.  This article will discuss the legal consequences of cheating and explain why it is almost always irrelevant to financial or custody issues in a divorce.  

  1. Cheating is not one of the grounds for divorce in California. 
  • There are two grounds for divorce in California:  irreconcilable differences and permanent legal incapacity.  You don’t need to prove cheating to get a California divorce because irreconcilable differences covers all problems or differences that make one person in the divorce want to leave the marriage.


  • Typically cheating will not result in greater alimony for the other spouse. 


California does not consider marital fault when determining alimony payments, so cheating typically does not factor into alimony.


  • What are the factors a judge would consider in awarding alimony?


California has a list of the factors that a judge should consider when making a spousal support/alimony determination.  This statute can be accessed in its entirety here:

(a) The extent to which the earning capacity of each party is sufficient to maintain the standard of living established during the marriage, taking into account all of the following:

(1) The marketable skills of the supported party; the job market for those skills; the time and expenses required for the supported party to acquire the appropriate education or training to develop those skills; and the possible need for retraining or education to acquire other, more marketable skills or employment.

(2) The extent to which the supported party’s present or future earning capacity is impaired by periods of unemployment that were incurred during the marriage to permit the supported party to devote time to domestic duties.

(b) The extent to which the supported party contributed to the attainment of an education, training, a career position, or a license by the supporting party.

(c) The ability of the supporting party to pay spousal support, taking into account the supporting party’s earning capacity, earned and unearned income, assets, and standard of living.

(d) The needs of each party based on the standard of living established during the marriage.

(e) The obligations and assets, including the separate property, of each party.

(f) The duration of the marriage.

(g) The ability of the supported party to engage in gainful employment without unduly interfering with the interests of dependent children in the custody of the party.

(h) The age and health of the parties.

(i) All documented evidence of any history of domestic violence, 

(j) The immediate and specific tax consequences to each party.

(k) The balance of the hardships to each party.

(l) The goal that the supported party shall be self-supporting within a reasonable period of time. Except in the case of a marriage of long duration as described in Section 4336, a “reasonable period of time” for purposes of this section generally shall be one-half the length of the marriage. However, nothing in this section is intended to limit the court’s discretion to order support for a greater or lesser length of time, based on any of the other factors listed in this section, Section 4336, and the circumstances of the parties.

(m) The criminal conviction of an abusive spouse shall be considered in making a reduction or elimination of a spousal support award in accordance with Section 4324.5 or 4325.

(n) Any other factors the court determines are just and equitable.


An experienced attorney can help make the divorce process easier for you and help you make important decisions.  At the Law Office of David Knecht, at 707-451-4502, we have extensive experience in divorce in California.  Call us today!


5 Ways to Save Money on Your California Divorce

Many people considering divorce are fearful of the cost and how the expense of a divorce may negatively impact their future long-term.  This article will help provide suggestions on how to save money on a California divorce.     

  1. Prepare and Organize Your Information.  If you prepare and organize your information in advance of meeting with your attorney, your meeting with him or her will be more effective.  You can make a list of all your assets and liabilities.  You can do research online to assess the value of your home, vehicles, and other assets.  When you organize this information into a concise summary, you will be better prepared to have an efficient discussion.  
  2.  Give Consideration to Your Priorities, Questions and Concerns.  Many issues in divorce require careful thought and consideration so that you can establish your ideal outcome.  For example, what would be the best custody arrangement for your schedule?  Where would you like to live now and in the future?  What assets are important to you to keep and what do you not mind selling?  Your attorney will certainly be invested in helping you achieve your ideal outcome, but in order to do that he or she will need to work with you to find out what that target is. 
  3. Choose a Support Person.  Decide a support person who can be there for you when you need impartial advice, a shoulder to cry on, or just a listening ear.  This support person will be essential in helping you process the many emotions involved in a divorce.  This will save you money by helping you set reasonable goals, make good decisions, and keep the time you are paying your attorney focused.  
  4. Communicate in Writing When Possible.  One way to save cost in any legal case is to communicate in writing, when it makes sense.  If you need to send your attorney a quick thought or note, an email or text can be quicker and cheaper than a phone call. 
  5. Choose Your Attorney Carefully.  One of the most important ways to save money in a divorce is to hire an attorney who is experienced in family law.  Some people are tempted to hire a friend or family member who is a lawyer with the idea that they may get a better deal going with someone they know.  Unfortunately, when you hire someone who does not have experience, you may be spending more money because they may have to come up to speed on family law issues on your dime.  

Consult with the Law Office of David Knecht

If you want a lawyer who is effective, efficient and experienced, while still being cognizant of cost, please contact the attorneys at the Law Office of David Knecht, at 707-451-4502.  


Do I Have to Pay My Spouse’s Attorney Fees in a California Divorce?

A question that often arises in a divorce is whether one spouse has to pay the other spouse’s attorney’s fees, and like many areas of the law, this legal question does not have an easy yes or no answer.  This article will talk about how the process works in determining whether the wife has to pay the attorney fees or whether the husband has to pay the wife’s attorney fees or whether each party pays their own.  

Family Code 2030

You can read the California Family Code Section 2020 that talks about this question here:

Each party needs to have equal access to representation

One key part of this law states that the court should ensure that each party has equal access to representation.  To accomplish this goal, the court can order one party to pay the other party or the other’s party’s attorney.  

What does “equal access to representation” mean?

A legal case from 2009, known as Alan S. v  Superior Court of Orange County, helps explain what “equal access to representation” means.  You can read the full opinion here:,45

The Alan S. case clarified that a  common misconception is that the purpose of Family Code 2030 is to redistribute money from the greater income party to the lesser income party.  In other words, some people incorrectly believe that this law is in place to make the money “fair” by forcing the richer party to pay the fees of the poorer party.  The Alan S. case clearly explains that equalizing disparate incomes is not the purpose. The purpose is to equalize access to legal representation. 

The idea is that both sides should have the opportunity to retain counsel, not just the one with the greater financial strength.  In fact, the Court in this case was quite clear on that point, and even italicized the take-away message of the case with this explanation: “The whole point of this case, after all, is that each side should have an equal opportunity for legal representation in the upcoming child custody hearing.”

Does the party with greater financial resources always have to pay for the other spouse’s legal fees?

Another common misconception is that the party that is wealthier always has to poay for the other spouse’s legal fees.  That is not the rule, as the decision turns on access to legal representation and not just the difference in incomes between the two parties.  For example, in the Alan S. case, the lower court’s ruling that Alan S. had to pay his wife’s attorney fees was reversed because the court reviewed the  circumstances and concluded that the equal opportunity standard in this instance did not justify an attorney fee award.  

How can you find out whether one spouse will have to pay the other spouse’s attorney’s fees in your divorce?

If you have questions about paying a spouse’s attorney fees, please contact us at the Law Office of David Knecht.  We have extensive experience in all aspects of family law and can answer your questions.  Contact us at 707-451-4502 for more information.  

First Steps in Dealing with the Estate when Someone Dies

When a person passes, the family and friends left behind will often wonder what to do.  This article will provide an overview of how to deal with the estate.  Source:  It isn’t uncommon for people to feel completely overwhelmed with the task of figuring out the estate when they are already overcome with grief and pain from the passing, so feel free to reach out to the Law Office of David Knecht for a consultation on how we can help you through this difficult time. 


  • Find out who will be the estate representative. 


The first step is to find out who will be the estate representative.  If there is a will, then the person named as executor in the will is the representative.  If there is no will, there are two possibilities:  Under certain conditions, the estate can pass through simplified procedures informally, and under other conditions, the case has to go through a formal probate court case where the court appoints an administrator. 


  • The estate representative should start gathering information and fulfilling duties. 


The role of the estate representative is to  are many important steps the estate representative is to take care of the estate and make sure it is distributed correctly.  This can include many steps, a few examples of which are as follows:  Get certified copies of the death certificate, find the will, collect and safeguard assets such as bank account funds, life insurance proceeds, veteran’s benefits, Social Security death and survivor benefit, real property (homes, cabins), collect the mail and any important papers, cancel credit cards and subscriptions, and manage digital assets (like a social media profile), notify the Franchise Tax Board, notify the Social Security Administration if the decedent was receiving monthly social security, prepare the decedent’s final income tax returns.  It’s a challenging task to identify and manage all of the duties involved. 


  • Identify the heirs and beneficiaries. 

Identifying the heirs and beneficiaries can be challenging.  It is usually decided by the terms of a will (if there is one), by state law if there is no will or if there is a problem with the will, or by other estate planning documents like beneficiary designations, living trusts or join tenancy arrangements.  There can be problems with a will.  For example, if a will is out of date, and a beneficiary has already died.  Many people find that an attorney can provide assistance in this key step of identifying heirs and beneficiaries. 


  • Inventory the property of the person who has died.

Make a list of assets and debts, which includes real property like a home or a farm, and personal which can be tangible property like cars, furniture, etc or intangible property, like stocks and bonds.  Find out how it is owned and the value of the property or debt on the date of death.  Consider whether the property is shared with perhaps a spouse or a business partner. 


  • Determine the best transfer process. 


When you’ve made your list of all the property, to whom it should be transferred, and what the value of it is, then final step is to determine the procedure for transfer.  There may be simplified procedures available or it may have to be done formally in probate court. 


Death is difficult, and the legal process for handling the estate can be confusing and stressful to deal with on your own. The Law Office of David Knecht, at 707-451-4502, can help you navigate the sometimes complex and confusing steps in settling the estate when someone dies.  Contact us today. 


Can You Use Simplified Procedures to Transfer an Estate?

When a loved one passes and you face the task of settling their legal and financial affairs, you may be wondering if you need to go to probate court to obtain title to the property.  The answer to this question can be complex and depends on a variety of factors such as the amount of money involved, the type of property and who is claiming the property.

Did the decedent designate a beneficiary? 


If the person who passed (called a decedent), named on or more beneficiaries to receive the asset, then a simplified procedure may be used to transfer the property.  Common examples of this situation would be life insurance proceeds, retirement accounts, pensions, annuities, bank accounts, stock accounts or property in a living trust. 

How was the property owned?


Another important factor is looking at the type of title ownership, or in other words, how the property was owned.  For example, was the property owned in a joint tenancy such that the surviving owner gets the entire property?  Was the property community property with the right of survivorship, such that the surviving spouse or partner would likely get the entire asset

Was the property community property?


The community property analysis may not be as simple, however.  An example is if the asset appears to community property without an explicit right of survivorship and whether a will designating that the property be divided in other ways.  It’s important in community property situations to ensure that the property was not somehow changed to separate property through agreement or otherwise. 

What type of benefit is involved?


Certain types of benefits can usually be collected without probate court.  These include benefits such as social security survivor benefits or benefits as a dependent of a deceased veteran. 

Find Answers to Your Questions

California Courts have publicly available resources explaining the probate process at, but these resources are often insufficient to answer every question.  Contact the Law Office of David Knecht, at 707-451-4502. We have extensive experience and can help make this process easier to navigate. 


What is Probate and What Are the Steps?

Probate means that there is a court case that deals with deciding if a will exists or is valid, figuring out who the decedent’s heirs or beneficiaries are, assessing how much the property is worth, taking care o the decedent’s financial responsibilities and transferring the property to the heirs or beneficiaries.  

In a probate case, the executor (if there is a will) of an administrator (if there is no will) is appointed by the court as a personal representative to collect assets, pay the debts and expenses, and then distribute the remainder of the estate to those who have the legal right to inherit.  All this is under the supervision of the court.  The entire case can take between 9 months to 1.5 years, perhaps longer or shorter. 

This article which summarizes information from the California Courts found at,  will give you an overview of the steps you need to take when a case must go through the probate process.  For help navigating the system and answers to your questions, please contact the Law Office of David Knecht, at 707-451-4502. We have extensive experience and can help you fulfill your responsibilities to the estate and to the memory of your loved one. 

  1. Within 30 days of person’s death, take the original will to the probate court clerk’s office and send a copy of the will to the executor or to a person named in the will as a beneficiary if the executor cannot be found. 
  2. The petitioner must start a case by filing a Petition for Probate and any other required forms in the county where the person who died lived (or in the California county where that person owned property if the person lived outside California). 
  3. Certain steps ensue after the case is filed, including a hearing date, notice requirements to various parties, and paperwork review by the examiner or the judge.
  4. The personal representative gathers assets and prepares an inventory and appraisal form.  An appraisal of nonmonetary assets often will also be needed.
  5. Creditors are formally notified and debts are paid.
  6. A final income tax return is prepared for the person who died.
  7. The probate court figures out who gets what property.
  8. The personal representative may be required to file additional forms to confirm the sales of real property.
  9. A final estate tax return is required under certain circumstances.
  10. The personal representative reports to the court on how the estate was handled and a hearing is typically held for the court’s review.

After all the filings are reviewed and the judge is satisfied that everyone received their property properly from the estate, the court discharges the personal representative from his or her duties.




How to Understand the Words Used in Probate Cases

Losing a loved one is heart-breaking, and this time of mourning can be even more challenging for the family or friends that now have the responsibility to manage the property that is left behind.  Probate is the court process for distributing the assets, paying debts, and settling the financial affairs of the person who has passed.  It is an area of the law with its own vocabulary, and understanding the terms will help you navigate the system.  The definitions below can also be found on

The Law Office of David W. Knecht helps trustees and executors administer trusts and probates.  We will spend time with you explaining the process and tasks involved in successfully administering a trust or probate estate.  We also prepare Wills, Living Trusts, Durable Powers of Attorney and Advance Health Care Directives to meet client’s estate planning needs.  Additionally, we represent clients in trust litigation and will contests, representing trustees, executors, beneficiaries and other intended parties.  Contact us at David Knecht Law at 707=451-4502 for help with any probate needs. 

Administrator: the person (usually the spouse, domestic partner, or close relative) that the court appoints to manage the estate of person who dies without a Will. The administrator is also called the personal representative of the estate. 

Beneficiary: a person who inherits when there is a Will. 

Decedent: the person who died. 

Decedent’s Estate: all real and personal property that a person owned at the time of death. 

Executor: a person named in a Will and appointed by the court to carry out the dead person’s wishes. The executor is also called the personal representative of the estate. 

Heir: a person who inherits when there is no Will. 

Holographic Will: a Will that is handwritten, dated and signed by the person writing the Will. 

Intestate: when someone dies without leaving a Will. 

Intestate succession: the order of who inherits property when someone dies without a Will. 

Living Trust: a trust set up during the life of a person to distribute money or property to another person or organization. 

Personal Property: things like cash, stocks, jewelry, clothing, furniture, or cars. Personal Representative: the administrator or executor that the court appoints to manage the estate. 

Probate: The court process for distributing a dead person’s assets, paying debts owed by the dead person, and settling the financial affairs of people when they die. 

Real Property: buildings and land. Successor: anyone who has the legal right to receive property of a person who dies, either under the Will or the Probate Code. 

Testate: when someone dies leaving a Will. Trust: an arrangement where property is given to someone to be held for the benefit of another person. 

Will: a legal paper that lists a person’s wishes about what will happen to his or her property after death.

Contact David Knecht Law at 707-451-4502, we are happy to walk you through what you need to know and guide you through each step of the probate process.