California: Every Legal, Medical, and Estate Planning Document You Need

Here's a complete guide to every critical medical, legal, and estate planning document and relevant state law for California. Download these forms and get started with Pillar to organize all of your most important documents in one safe, secure, easy-to-use online storage solution

February 2, 2021

California has the largest population of any state in the U.S. After taking just one look at all it has to offer, it’s easy to understand why.

As home to Silicon Valley, California offers some of the best job prospects with well-known tech companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, and others. Plus, with popular cities like Los Angeles (home of Hollywood), San Francisco, and San Diego as well as 840 miles of beautiful Pacific Ocean coastline, what's not to love?

If you or someone you’re caring for lives in the Golden State, then there will be several important documents you’ll want to have organized in case of an emergency. Here’s a complete list of all medical, legal, and estate planning forms you’ll need as a resident of California.

Essential California Medical Laws & Important Forms

How Long Do Doctors in California Keep Medical Records?

In California, healthcare providers must maintain a patient’s medical records as follows:

  • Doctors: Six years as required by HIPAA regulations. However, the Cooperative of American Physicians (CAP) and the California Medical Association (CMA) recommends holding records for at least ten years.
  • Hospitals: Seven years or until age 19 (whichever is longer). If services are rendered under Medi-Cal or any other California Department of Health Care Services health care program, then the duration must be increased to ten years per Assembly Bill 1688 (Chapter 511, Statutes of 2017).

For as long as they are available, you have the right to get a copy or amend your medical records.

Read more about your rights when it comes to your medical records.

Advance Directive Laws

Residents of California who wish to set up an advance directive can find a free downloadable form on the Office of the Attorney General website. This form allows you to specify the following:

  • Part 1 - Health care power of attorney
  • Part 2 - Instructions about treatment and pain relief (living will)
  • Part 3 - Organ donation
  • Part 4 - Designation of a primary physician

To make the advance directive effective, you must sign it in the presence of two witnesses. The witnesses must also sign the form and at least one of them cannot be related by blood or marriage.

The California Emergency Medical Services Authority website also has additional forms for those who have decided on the following additional measures:

  • DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) – Allows the patient to forgo resuscitative measures in the event of cardiopulmonary arrest.
  • POLST (Physician’s Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment) - Gives seriously ill patients the ability to specify medical treatment instructions towards the end of life.

California Organ Donor Registry

There are more than 20,000 people in California on the organ transplant waiting list waiting for gifts of organs, eyes, and tissues. If you’d like to become an organ donor in the state of California, then you can do so by signing up with Donate Life California. Registration can be done online and all information will be kept confidential.

Essential California Legal & Estate Planning Documents & Forms

California Probate Laws

When a resident of California passes away (i.e. becomes a "decedent"), their estate must go through the probate process if it is valued at greater than $166,250.

At the start of probate, an executor will be named if the decedent leaves a will. If there is no will, then the court will appoint an administrator. In both cases, this person will serve as the personal representative of the decedent and carry out such responsibilities as gathering personal records, notifying beneficiaries, managing the assets, etc. 

The entire probate process can be complicated and may take anywhere between 9-18 months; maybe even longer. Therefore, it's advised that provisions be made to transfer property outside of probate whenever possible.

If the estate is less than $166,250, then you can petition to use California’s simplified procedure instead. Assets that would be excluded from this calculated value would include:

Read more about the California probate process.

Trusts in California

A revocable living trust is another way to avoid probate and pass property directly to a beneficiary. Since California does not use the Uniform Probate Code, it may be a good idea to create a living trust to avoid California's complex probate process.

A will should also be written even if you create a trust. A will helps to provide a catch-all for any property that wasn't transferred to the trust. Without a will, it would be up to the court to determine how your remaining assets should be dispersed under California state law.

Read more about the biggest differences between a will and a trust, and how each can assist you with probate when planning your estate.

California Digital Estate Planning Laws

In California, your digital assets (emails, social media accounts, etc.) can be accessed and managed by your personal representative or trustee. To find out more about everything that’s covered, you can read the full bill here: AB-691 Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act

How to Get a Death Certificate in California

Death certificates are available online or in-person through the California Department of Public Health – Vital Records (CDPH-VR). There is a small fee and processing may take 3-5 weeks.

Only certain individuals (such as immediate family members, attorneys, law enforcement, etc.) are eligible to order authorized death certificates. People who are not eligible to receive an authorized copy can receive an informational copy where such information as signatures and Social Security numbers have been removed. Click here to read more about the differences between the two.

Does California Have an Estate & Inheritance Tax?

Whether you plan to leave assets to a beneficiary or you’re the heir to someone else’s estate, there may be taxes owed to the IRS. If you live in California, here are the state-level taxes that will be collected:

  • Estate tax: None. However, be aware that larger estates may still be subject to the federal estate tax.
  • Inheritance tax: None. Remember that if you live in California and someone from another state has made you an heir to their estate, then the other state’s inheritance laws may apply.
  • Gift tax: None. But don’t forget that the federal gift tax exemption is $15,000 per gift recipient per year.

Getting Your Documents Organized in California

California may be one of the most luxurious and sought after places in the U.S. to live. However, because of its complex probate process, you’ll want to make sure that you’ve got all of your important documents in order for when you’ll need them the most.

You can easily do this by creating a customized account with Pillar. Use Pillar to scan, digitally store, and share your most important files with your family and those who need them.

Start your free 14-day trial today and see if Pillar is right for you.