For over 4 years, Lisett C. Gonzalez has been dedicated to providing low-cost, self-help legal document assistance in California. Our services include immigration consulting and legal document preparation. As an Immigration Consultant, we are Secretary of State Certified & Bonded. We are also a Registered Legal Document Assistant offering low-cost legal document assistance in a variety of routine legal matters.
Immigration and US Citizenship Services in California
Filing a Petition for a Change of Name is the most common process and results in a court order.
Divorced or getting divorced:
If you want to change your name back to your maiden name or a prior married name,
Gender and name change
If you want to legally change your gender (with or without a name change too)
If you recently got married and want to change your last name to your spouse's last name, you may not have to go to court. Contact both your local DMV office and your social security office, and ask them whether you can change the name on your driver's license and social security card simply by showing your marriage license or certificate. Note that it is possible they will tell you to get a court order, so be prepared for that.
In California, you generally have the legal right to change your name simply by using a new name in all aspects of your life, also known as the "usage method." BUT, with few exceptions, government agencies require a court order as official proof of a name change so getting a court order is the best way to make sure you legally change your name.
Professional Assistance With Real Estate Deeds, A Deed Of Trust Or Other Important Deed Paperwork
Deeds are written legal documents which confirm that an interest, right or property has passed from one hand to another, so it’s important to ensure that they are created with all the proper elements including:
- The word deed stated on the document as “This Deed” or “is executed as a deed.”
- Use of the phrase “by these presents,” the word “hereby” or other legal term to show that the deed is conveying a privilege or item to another person.
- A legal seal affixed to the executed deed.
At We The Document, our legal experts can help you craft the proper deeds for your particular situation without the need of expensive attorney fees.
Real Estate Deeds
When most people think of deeds, they generally mean the documents that transfer the ownership of commercial or personal real estate. It’s particularly important that this type of deed has all the proper legal elements including the names of the old and new owners, the location, a legal description of the real estate, and the signatures of those who are transferring (or selling) the property.
Once a real estate deed is officially signed and notarized, it must be properly recorded or filed with the land authorities in the county where the property is situated such as the Land Registry Office or County Records Office.
Our local offices have all this information available to help you file your deed on time and at the correct location.
Deed of Trust
A Deed of Trust, sometimes known as a Trust Deed, is a special document generally used to transfer a property title from a borrower to a third party or “trustee” (usually a trust or title company) that holds the title as security, or collateral, for a loan.
A Deed of Trust is similar to a mortgage in that the borrower has control of the property during the life of the loan as long as he or she is meeting the terms of the deed. Once the loan has been paid, the trustee will transfer the title back to the borrower.
As with a real estate deed, the signed and notarized Deed of Trust must be recorded in the proper land records office.
There are 3 main ways to end a marriage or registered domestic partnership in California: divorce, legal separation, and annulment. It is not necessary for both spouses or domestic partners to agree to end the marriage. Either spouse or partner can decide to end the marriage, and the other spouse/partner, even if he or she does not want to get a divorce, cannot stop the process by refusing to participate in the case. If a spouse or domestic partner does not participate in the divorce case, the other spouse/partner will still be able to get a “default” judgment and the divorce will go through.
California is a “no fault” divorce state, which means that the spouse or domestic partner that is asking for the divorce does not have to prove that the other spouse or domestic partner did something wrong. To get a no fault divorce, 1 spouse or domestic partner has to state that the couple cannot get along. Legally, this is called “irreconcilable differences.”
After you decide how you want to end your marriage or domestic partnership, you need to plan your case ahead of time. Think about how you are going to handle your case. Planning before you start and talking to a lawyer can save you time and money as you go through the court process. And keep in mind that, normally, it does not matter who is the first to file the divorce or separation case. The court does not give any preference to the first person to file or a disadvantage to the person who responds to the case.
If you want to end a registered domestic partnership, domestic partners must also file for dissolution (divorce), legal separation, or annulment to end their relationship. There is a limited exception where domestic partners can end their relationship in a summary process through the Secretary of State if they have been registered for less than five years and they have no children, no real property, very few assets or debts, and a written agreement on dividing their property, in addition to other restrictions. Click to learn more about this shorter process to see if you are eligible to end your domestic partnership that way.
Federal law does not recognize domestic partnerships for most purposes, such as Medicare, immigration law, veterans' benefits, and federal tax laws. Domestic partners may be recognized for some federal purposes, such as Social Security. In addition, domestic partners may not have the same rights if they leave California because other states may not recognize domestic partnerships. Talk to a lawyer if you are ending a domestic partnership and any of these issues may apply to you. You may also want to talk to an accountant who is knowledgeable about these issues.
In California, a landlord may be able to evict a tenant if the tenant:
- Fails to pay the rent on time;
- Breaks the lease or rental agreement and will not fix the problem (like keeping your cat when pets are not allowed);
- Damages the property bringing down the value (commits "waste");
- Becomes a serious nuisance by disturbing other tenants and neighbors even after being asked to stop; or
- Uses the property to do something illegal.
In most cities, the landlord can also evict the tenant:
- If he tenant stays after the lease is up,* or
- If the landlord cancels the rental agreement by giving proper notice.*
A landlord cannot evict a tenant for an illegal reason like discrimination or to get back at the tenant for taking action against the landlord, like filing a complaint because the property’s heating system is broken.
RESPONSIBILITIES OF LANDLORDS AND TENANTS
Landlords must make sure:
- The outside walls, windows, and doors protect tenants against water or weather.
- The plumbing and gas fittings work properly.*
- There is hot and cold running water, appropriate fixtures, an approved sewage system, and the water supply is not contaminated.*
- There is a working heater.
- There is adequate lighting and electrical wiring that meets safety standards.*
- The premises and common areas must be clean and free from pests.
- There are adequate garbage containers.
- The floors, stairways and railings are not broken.
*The landlord must meet the standards in effect when installed as well as current building and house code standards. For more information, read California Civil Code section 1941.
The landlord must also promptly repair problems related to the habitability items listed above. If the tenant gives notice of a problem and the landlord fails to fix it, the tenant may be able to pay for the repair and deduct the cost from the rent. This only applies if the cost is not more than 1 month’s rent. Read Civil Code section 1942.
The landlord must give reasonable notice to the tenant before gaining entrance to the rental unit, unless there is an emergency that requires immediate entry (such as fixing a broken pipe).
There are other responsibilities that landlords have, and you can read about them in the materials from the California Department of Consumer Affairs.
Individuals can file bankruptcy without an attorney, which is called filing pro se. However, seeking the advice of a qualified attorney is strongly recommended because bankruptcy has long-term financial and legal outcomes.
Filing personal bankruptcy under Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 takes careful preparation and understanding of legal issues. Misunderstandings of the law or making mistakes in the process can affect your rights. Court employees and bankruptcy judges are prohibited by law from offering legal advice.
The following is a list of ways your lawyer can help you with your case.
- Advise you on whether to file a bankruptcy petition.
- Advise you under which chapter to file.
- Advise you on whether your debts can be discharged.
- Advise you on whether or not you will be able to keep your home, car, or other property after you file.
- Advise you of the tax consequences of filing.
- Advise you on whether you should continue to pay creditors.
- Explain bankruptcy law and procedures to you.
- Help you complete and file forms.
- Assist you with most aspects of your bankruptcy case.
Pro se litigants are expected to follow the rules and procedures in federal courts and should be familiar with the United States Bankruptcy Code(link is external), the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure(link is external), and the local rules of the court in which the case is filed. Local rules, along with other useful information, are posted on the court's website and are available at the local court's intake counter. Court employees and bankruptcy judges are prohibited by law from offering legal advice.
Bankruptcy Forms are available to the public free of charge. Many courts require local forms. You should check your court’s website before filing any documents.
Non-attorney Petition Preparers
If you file bankruptcy pro se, you may be offered services by non-attorney petition preparers. By law, preparers can only enter information into forms. They are prohibited from providing legal advice, explaining answers to legal questions, or assisting you in bankruptcy court. A petition preparer must sign all documents they prepare for you; print their name, address and social security on the documents; and provide you with a copy of all documents. They cannot sign documents on your behalf or receive payment for court fees.
It is a written legal document that partially substitutes for a will. With a living trust, your assets (your home, bank accounts and stocks, for example) are put into the trust, administered for your benefit during your lifetime, and then transferred to your beneficiaries when you die.
Most people name themselves as the trustee in charge of managing their trust’s assets. This way, even though your assets have been put into the trust, you can remain in control of your assets during your lifetime. You can also name a successor trustee (a person or an institution) who will manage the trust’s assets if you ever become unable or unwilling to do so yourself.
The living trust described in this pamphlet is a revocable living trust (sometimes referred to as a revocable inter vivos trust, revocable trust or a grantor trust). Such a trust may be amended or revoked at any time by the person or persons who created it (commonly known as the trustor(s), grantor(s) or settlor(s)) as long as he, she, or they are still competent.
Your living trust agreement:
- Gives the trustee the legal right to manage and control the assets held in your trust.
- Instructs the trustee to manage the trust’s assets for your benefit during your lifetime.
- Names the beneficiaries (persons or charitable organizations) who are to receive your trust’s assets when you die.
- Gives guidance and certain powers and authority to the trustee to manage and distribute your trust’s assets. The trustee is a fiduciary, which means he or she holds a position of trust and confidence and is subject to strict responsibilities and very high standards. For example, the trustee cannot use your trust’s assets for his or her own personal use or benefit without your explicit permission. Instead, the trustee must hold and use trust assets solely for the benefit of the trust’s beneficiaries.
A living trust can be an important part — and in many cases, the most important part — of your estate plan.
What can a living trust do for me?
It can help ensure that your assets will be managed according to your wishes — even if you become unable to manage them yourself.
In setting up your living trust, you may serve as its trustee initially or you may choose someone else to do so. You can name a trustee to take over the trust’s management for your benefit if you ever become unable or unwilling to manage it yourself. And at your death, the trustee — similar to the executor of a will — would then gather your assets, pay any debts, claims and taxes, and distribute your assets according to your instructions. Unlike a will, however, this can all be done without court supervision or approval.
Having a power of attorney in place when an elderly parent or incapacitated loved one can no longer make either medical or financial decisions themselves is a great way to protect their rights and safety while enabling you to make crucial decisions for them Financial Power Of Attorney
When an individual prepares and signs a financial power of attorney, they are appointing someone they trust to handle certain legal transactions on their behalf, including all financial transactions such as managing investments, paying bills, buying or selling property and making financial decisions. When preparing your financial power of attorney, you can also limit the types of transactions that it pertains to. For example, you can limit it solely to real estate or banking or insurance. In other words, you don’t have to cover all financial transactions, only those you wish to be included.
Financial POAs come in two forms:
- Durable Power Of Attorney goes into effect immediately upon being signed and witnessed by all parties. It will last until the grantor formally revokes it or passes away.
- Springing Power Of Attorney can be signed now, but doesn’t go into effect until the grantor becomes incapacitated or is no longer able to make decisions for his or her self.
We the Document Power of Attorney Forms
Get even more details and read The Difference Between Durable Power of Attorney and Springing Power of Attorney.
We The Document can prepare power of attorney forms so that you or your loved one is protected in the event that a lengthy illness, dementia, accident or other health issue renders you or your family member unable to make financial decisions for yourself. At We The Document, we’re always available to assist you in preparing power of attorney forms to protect your family.
Probate means that there is a court case that deals with:
- Transferring the property of someone who has died to the heirs or beneficiaries;
- Deciding if a will is valid; and
- Taking care of the financial responsibilities of the person who died.
In a probate case, an executor (if there is a will) or an administrator (if there is no will) is appointed by the court as personal representative to collect the assets, pay the debts and expenses, and then distribute the remainder of the estate to the beneficiaries (those who have the legal right to inherit), all under the supervision of the court. The entire case can take between 9 months to 1 ½ years, maybe even longer.
You may or may not need to go to probate court to obtain title to property belonging to a dead person. Figuring out if you have to go to probate court depends on many issues, like the amount of money involved, the type of property involved, and who is claiming the property.
And deciding if probate court is needed may also depend on the how the property is owned (the type of title ownership) or if there is some type of contract with beneficiaries. For example:
- Type of Title Ownership: : Sometimes all or some of a dead person’s property passes directly to the beneficiaries because of how the property is owned. So if the property was owned in joint tenancy, if it was community property with the right of survivorship, if it was a bank account owned by several people, or a bank account that is transferred to someone when the owner dies, then, in general, when the owner of the property dies, the property goes to the survivor. Keep in mind that even in these cases, the survivor may have to take legal steps to clarify his or her ownership of the transferred property.
- Type of Contract: Sometimes all or some of a dead person’s property does not need to go through probate to pass to the beneficiaries. This is because this property is a type of contract with named beneficiaries. Examples of this are life insurance that pays benefits to someone else other than the dead person’s estate, retirement benefits, death benefits, and trusts.
The property and debts part of a divorce or legal separation is often so complicated and the cost of making a mistake is so high that you should talk to a lawyer before you file your papers, especially if you have anything of value (or if you have significant debt). Keep in mind you may not need to hire a lawyer to take on your entire divorce or legal separation, just the property and debt portion of your case.
ALERT! If you signed a property agreement before or during the marriage (like a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement), talk to a lawyer to see how this affects your case before you file your papers with the court.
Property is anything that can be bought or sold, like:
- A house,
- Furniture, or
Property is also anything that has value, like:
- Bank accounts and cash,
- Security deposits on apartments,
- Pension plans,
- 401(k) plans,
- Life insurance that has cash value,
- A business, or
- A patent.
When you get divorced or legally separated, the court makes decisions about how to divide the property that the spouses or domestic partners bought during the marriage.
Even if you do not want to deal with these issues or if you divided your property informally when you separated, the court still needs to make a formal order about these issues.
This does not mean that you have to go in front of a judge to decide these issues. Often, couples are able to divide their property (and their debts) by agreement. But when you get divorced, the judge has to sign off on that agreement. Until that happens, the property you got during the marriage or domestic partnership belongs to the 2 of you, no matter who is using it or who has control of it. The same is true of debts. If you divide them between you without a court order (or without a judge signing off on your agreement), the debt continues to belong to the 2 of you and you are both responsible for it, even if the 2 of you split it up informally.
To understand how to divide your property and debt so you can finalize your divorce or legal separation, you have to understand how property laws work in California when a couple is married or in a domestic partnership. The rest of this section will explain those laws.
Community Property and Separate Property
California is a community property state. This means that a marriage or the registration of a domestic partnership makes 2 people 1 legal “community.” So property that the couple acquires during marriage/partnership is “community property.” And debt that the couple acquires during the marriage/partnership also belongs to the “community debt.”
Small claims court is a special court where disputes are resolved quickly and inexpensively. The rules are simple and informal. The person who sues is called the plaintiff. The person who is sued is called the defendant. You are not allowed to have a lawyer represent you at the hearing in small claims court. But you can talk to a lawyer before or after court.
You can sue in small claims court if you are:
- At least 18 years old, OR
- An emancipated child.
If you are not mentally competent, or you are under 18 years old (and not emancipated), a judge must appoint a "guardian ad litem" to represent you in small claims court. A guardian ad litem is an adult appointed by the court to represent you ONLY in the case in question.
In general, a natural person (an individual) cannot ask for more than $10,000 in a claim. Businesses and other entities (like government entities) cannot ask for more than $5,000. This limit on businesses does not apply to sole proprietors, who are treated as natural persons. You can file as many claims as you want for up to $2,500 each. But you can only file 2 claims in a calendar year that ask for more than $2,500.
There are some exceptions to the $10,000 limit for individuals:
- As a natural person, you can only sue a guarantor for up to $6,500 ($2,500 if they do not charge for the guarantee). A "guarantor" is a person or company that promises to be responsible for what another person owes. (If you are an entity other than a natural person and the guarantor charges for its services, you may file a claim for up to $4,000.)
- But, you can sue the Registrar of the Contractors (the executive officer of the Contractors State License Board) as a guarantor for up to $10,000.
Collections agencies cannot sue in small claims court to collect on debts that are assigned to them.
There are different kinds of cases you can file in small claims court.
Some common types of small claims cases are disputes about:
- Property damage or personal injury from a car accident;
- Landlord/tenant security deposits;
- Damage to your property by a neighbor;
- Disputes with contractors about repairs or home improvement jobs;
- Collection of money owed;
- Homeowner association disputes; and
- Many other issues.
Your will is a legal document in which you give certain instructions to be carried out after your death. For example, you may direct the distribution of your assets (your money and property), and give your choice of guardians for your children. It becomes irrevocable when you die. In your will, you can name:
Your beneficiaries. You may name beneficiaries (family members, friends, spouse, domestic partner or charitable organizations, for example) to receive your assets according to the instructions in your will. You may list specific gifts, such as jewelry or a certain sum of money, to certain beneficiaries, and you should direct what should be done with all remaining assets (any assets that your will does not dispose of by specific gift).
A guardian for your minor children. You may nominate a person to be responsible for your child’s personal care if you and your child’s other parent die before the child turns 18. You may also name a guardian — who may or may not be the same person — to be responsible for managing any assets given to the child, until he or she is 18 years old. You can also nominate a guardian in a separate writing other than a will. Such a writing should be signed by all of the child’s parents.
An executor. You may nominate a person or institution to collect and manage your assets, pay any debts, expenses and taxes that might be due, and then, with the court’s approval, distribute your assets to your beneficiaries according to the instructions in your will. Your executor serves a very important role and has significant responsibilities. It can be a time-consuming job. You should choose your executor carefully. An executor is entitled to compensation for the services provided.