Joint Tenancy in California: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Almost all homes, as well as other assets, owned by spouses in California are held in joint tenancy. Joint tenancy is a form of ownership where everyone on title owns 100% of the subject property. Generally speaking, as people die, the “last man standing” is the individual who will own the asset outright. Because nothing formal needs to be done, for many people this seems like a nifty way to avoid a California probate as well as the need for estate planning in California. Pretty smart right? Well, not exactly…

While it’s true that joint tenancy might avoid a probate and could alleviate the need for some estate planning, everybody should understand the risks involved with holding Joint Tenancy assets, especially in California. Some of the risks are obvious while others are shockingly subtle. Below, I’ve grouped the risks into three major categories, starting with some of the more well known problems and then discussing some of the less obvious fiascos that California joint tenancies create:

Problem #1 – Who will be the ultimate owner of joint tenancy assets?

Most of the time, the “final” owner of joint tenancy property is a spouse (when title is solely held by a husband and wife). But after both spouses pass away, the question remains: who inherits then? If no estate planning is carried out before the death of the surviving spouse, joint tenancy assets will pass via “intestate succession” (i.e. how the State of California guesses you would have wanted it to pass). If you have the “Wally Cleaver” family this may not be an inheritance problem, per se, because the asset will be split and eventually distributed to the children of both husband and wife. Of course, there will likely be a long and costly probate court proceeding to make that happen but at least the assets wind up in the “right” hands.

So under the best case scenario, assets might pass the way parents want, but it will cost a significant amount of money and take (usually) one to two years in California. But what happens if we tweak the facts a little and/or the family dynamics are not perfect?

Answer: All sorts of wild things. And how often do these problems really occur? Answer: A lot.

For example, if a child predeceases a parent in California, and that parent held her house in joint tenancy with her son and daughter, that asset will end up 100% in the hands of the other surviving child, while cutting out the grandchildren of the first predeceased child. Most parents cringe at the thought of unintentionally cutting out legitimate heirs.

Another unintentional result occurs when a spouse or child is holding property in joint tenancy and then the child gets sued (because of a car accident, bankruptcy, etc.) and that creditor ends up attaching the property that mom or dad believed they solely owned. In other words, holding assets in joint tenancy gives potential creditors of your beneficiaries the right to seize your assets! Obviously, this is a horrible result when it happens.

Actually, what occurs even more often than the “unintentional” transfers mentioned above are the intentional transfers. These occur most often when there are children of a prior relationship involved or a surviving spouse simply gets remarried at some point. In these situations, it is frequently the case that the “survivor” of the original joint tenancy leaves those (joint) assets to a new spouse (It is interesting to note that this could happen intentionally or inadvertently when new spouses create yet another joint tenancy). Another common result occurs when the survivor of joint tenancy property, leaves those assets to their children from a prior relationship, instead of to your biological children.

Estate planning attorneys are well aware of the problems encountered above because these outcomes happen frequently in California. But what about some of the less obvious problems…

Problem #2 – Tax Issues!

The interplay between the death and income tax systems is tricky when it comes to how title to property is held. This is especially true in California as well as a few other community property states. You see, when spouses hold property in joint tenancy in California and one of them passes away, there is only a step-up in tax basis on the deceased persons half of estate assets under IRC section 1014. That means, there is still a lot of potential tax owed by the surviving spouse on those assets. (Conversely, when the same assets are held in a living trust in California, there is a 100% step-up in tax basis on 100% of all capital assets owned; meaning there will be no tax owed when a surviving spouse goes to sell them.) Sometimes couples who held real property in joint tenancy are “saved” by IRC section 121 for quick sales of a principal residence-this is the potential exemption available when people live two out of the past five years in their home. In these situations, the survivor can get a $250,000 step-up in tax basis. However, this safety net only applies to a principal residence and not any other assets (i.e., a second home, stock, etc.). But oftentimes, even with the possibility of using both IRC sections 121 and 1014, there is still not enough to save a surviving spouse from crushing taxes.

To illustrate the problem above, I will tell you about a real life example of a person who got caught in the crosshairs of a California joint tenancy, lack of a stepped-up basis and large capital gains taxes. In this persons case, besides other assets, he and his wife held two homes in joint tenancy. She passed away in January of 2014 and he sold one house in late 2014. He also had the second home up for sale in 2015 because he could no longer live there. Prior to filing his 2014 tax return, he decided to set up a California living trust. Through this process, the difference between tax basis, California community property ownership, joint tenancy ownership, and his current tax ramifications were explained to him. As the realization set in that he owed an enormous amount of tax – tax that was totally unnecessary to trigger – he was not happy, to say the least. The reason he now owed extra tax was because he and his wife bought both properties for relatively little and held them in California joint tenancies. Upon her passing, her half of the properties were stepped-up, while his half was not. On the first sale, even with one-half of each home receiving a stepped-up basis, the sale of his half of the home created a huge tax burden for him. He was able to use his IRC section 121 exclusion to help make up some of the difference and that definitely helped. But even with the half step-up in basis, plus his $250,000 IRC section 121 exclusion, he still owed quite a bit of tax. To make matters worse, he couldn’t live in the second home and if he went through with his proposed sale, he was going to face even much worse tax ramifications. So, instead of paying tens of thousands of dollars of yet even more tax, he was forced into holding the second home (and paying property taxes, insurance, upkeep, etc.) for a minimum of two more years in order to hopefully capture another IRC section 121 exclusion. And he was lucky! Had he not quickly consulted with a tax professional, he would have additionally lost out on the second exclusion. Please note that all of this may be a bit confusing but the point is that if he and his wife had not held the properties in California joint tenancies, and instead, held them in a California living trust, he would have owed zero tax. But in an effort to save a few dollars on estate planning, these joint tenancies in California cost him dearly.

Amazingly, the problem would be much worse if a parent (instead of spouses) tried to use joint tenancies instead of a trust in California because almost 100% of the time, the protection afforded under IRC section 121 would not be available. Still, the issues caused by California joint tenancies in these first two categories of problems pale in comparison to the dilemmas that arise in the following situations…

Problem #3 – The subtle, yet HUGE elder law issues which California joint tenancies cause.

This category of problem is especially noxious both because few people understand the relationship between California joint tenancies and California elder law, and also because of the extent of damage that that lack of knowledge causes. You see, in the past, most people have been focused on the question of what happens to their stuff when they die, while completely ignoring the question of what happens to their stuff if they live?

What’s the difference? Confused? Why does it matter you ask? Answer: It matters because in California, seniors can receive Medi-Cal or Veterans Pension Benefits (under the right circumstances) to pay for long term skilled nursing care. And receiving these government benefits just might stave of bankruptcy. But for those who failed to do any estate planning and are holding onto joint tenancies, government benefits may not be available.

In order to understand why the above is true, it’s important to understand California elder law. California elder law however, is extremely complicated. But again, a real life example can help explain the elder law/joint tenancy issues more clearly. In this case, a wife and her husband held their primary home in joint tenancy in California. They also held all of their liquid accounts in joint tenancy. And in addition, they recently began construction of a retirement home, which they held (you guessed it) in joint tenancy. The joint tenancies seemed like a good transfer plan to them, until the husband suddenly and out of nowhere suffered a debilitating brain injury. After months in the hospital (which Medicare covered), the hospital kicked him out and into skilled nursing care. The cost of skilled nursing was, and is, $880/day. Although the first few days were covered by Medicare, some simple math revealed that in less than four years both husband and wife would become bankrupt. What’s worse, is that neither of them had any estate planning in place. This means that she had no authority to do anything with his half of their assets. Furthermore, because the homes are held in joint tenancy, she cannot do anything meaningful with her half of those properties! That’s because she simply has no authority to act for him, which as a consequence of joint ownership means that she also has no power over her half as well. (In theory, she could try to sell her half, but who is going to buy ½ of a house?) Thus, as long as the homes remain jointly owned, she has no ability to control the economic value of the homes. Thus, she is unable to borrow against the home(s) if a loan is required for their maintenance and support (or, in this case, for the retirement home to be fully built in the first place). And she is unable to sell either home to raise funds to pay for the care her husband so desperately needs (not to mention future care that she may need).

If they had had their assets in a trust, or at least, had had really good elder law powers of attorney, she could now do protection planning for their assets and in the process avail her husband of Medi-Cal (California’s version of Medicaid). But they didn’t do that and can’t now do it, after husband’s brain injury. Thus, those California joint tenancies literally left her in quicksand. Put another way, she can do nothing but let the half-built house rot, while her husband is stuck in expensive skilled nursing care.

But there must be some solution you wonder? Well, sometimes people will Petition a court under a “3100 Petition” to beg a judge to let her “gift” his half of the assets to her, to help them both stave off bankruptcy. But there is no guarantee that a judge will rule in her favor. In fact, in Los Angeles where she is located, there is a good chance that a judge will not allow her to do this. Judges in Los Angeles are simply not so sympathetic to these situations.

So what are her options? She can do nothing and if she dies before him (the result that nobody ever thinks of, but happens sometimes), the family assets will be 100% his (under joint tenancy law) and it is likely that their entire estate will end up paying for his care, leaving nothing to show for a lifetime of hard work. On the other hand, if he dies first, she will be able to do some planning after the fact, but she will face all the same tax issues above as well as possibly being stuck with his large medical bills.

Since the aforementioned outcomes are pretty horrible, if her 3100 Petition is not approved, she will be forced into petitioning for a regular probate court conservatorship for her husband. This should allow her to get out of the quicksand and act (a little). But the problem is that simply opening a conservatorship will not allow her to effectively preserve family assets. In other words, in this situation, she is looking at hundreds of thousands of dollars wasted, both in terms of lost Medi-Cal as well as conservatorship legal costs.

Any way you slice it, her joint tenancy assets are going to cost her dearly. The only question is to what extent the damage will be? This is the reason elder law and joint tenancies in California are especially dangerous. At least in the first two categories above, just a persons heirs hopes are thwarted. But in these elder law situations, California joint tenancies could literally leave their owners broke!

The moral of the story: if people engage in regular estate and elder law planning, instead of trying to avoid planning by using California joint tenancies, they can achieve all their goals without losing part, or all, of their assets to taxes and long term care costs.

California’s Water Supply: Top Fascinating Facts About California Water Consumption and Conversation

The Californian water supply system is one of the most unique water delivery systems in the world. Not only do individuals depend on freshwater daily-farms, industries, local governments, and other institutions must have ready-access to it too. Basic facts that you probably didn’t know about California’s water system includes:

• Water demand in California is highest during summer time-when the air is hot and dry.

• On average, over 190 million MAF’s (acre-feet) of precipitation falls on California in the form of snow or rain, which predominantly originates in Northern California. To put that into perspective, 326,000 gallons of water constitutes one MAF-or enough to replenish two average-sized families for one year.

• A large portion of it evaporates or is absorbed into the ground

• What’s left of the remaining ground water goes to freshwater river flows and basins, Delta outflows, and other environmental mandates (47%); irrigation systems (40%); and to the municipality water reserves and various industries (13%)

• Most precipitation in California occurs between October and April.

• California is one of the most susceptible states to water crises in terms of both flooding and droughts, the latter being the most common. It is only appropriate that people would have raised awareness of this crisis waiting to happen. A proactive approach would be to instill water saving techniques in each of the households.

• All-in-all, California employs thousands of rivers, reservoirs, pipelines, and canals to deliver water to its residents and industries. They are a mixture local, state, and the federal initiatives.

Major Water Authorities in California

The Central Valley Project and the State Water Project are two of the largest water suppliers in California. The former is a water delivery system, established in 1950, that pumps over seven million MAF’s of water to residents of Sacramento and the rest of the San Joaquin River Delta, as well as portions of the San Francisco Bay area and Southern California.

The State Water Project (SWP) infuses only about half the amount of water as the CVP does-yet it’s still a force to be reckoned with. The second-largest-CA-water-project SWP delivers enough water-primarily over the 440-mile-long California Aqueduct–to supply over 21 million people and over 750,000 acres of farmland with freshwater.

Finally, the California Aqueduct, the main artery of the CVP, starts its journey at the Harvey O. Banks Pumping Plant. From there, water is pumped in from the Joaquin River Delta and fed into a series of canals, which lead into various reservoirs, and back into canals that ultimately end near the heart of Los Angeles.

Winter Camping in California

Can’t resist the call of the wild? Does summer seem too far away to wait to hit the great outdoors? Many people only think of camping as a summertime activity, but for many of us we simply can’t wait around half the year before getting back out in open. Luckily California has many amazing places where you can camp during the winter months. Winter camping is usually cheaper and less crowded than camping in the summer and you will also get to experience California in a whole different way.

California has blessed us outdoor lovers with a variety of different landscapes and climates to experience. And while the high sierras are covered in snow, the Mojave Desert and Pacific Coast beckon campers to come and experience their winter beauty. The beach is usually the best place to go to escape the cold inland winters thanks to the moderate temperatures experienced year round. Of course for true adventure seekers there are also opportunities for snow camping in the higher elevations, so why not pair a ski trip with a camping trip? Regardless of where you choose, these places are downright beautiful, yet few people have experienced this beauty in the wintertime. They are calling for you to come visit!

Angel Island – Northern California / San Francisco Bay Area

As a Bay Area resident I am very fond of Angel Island… when it isn’t overflowing with people. It is a quick trip to anyone in the Bay Area of Sacramento regions, and it has absolutely spectacular views of the San Francisco Bay, including the San Francisco Skyline, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge and views of Tiburon and Sausalito. Rain and thick fog are common for Bay Area winters but relative to the rest of Northern California the temperatures are pleasantly moderate. The past five years have seen very dry winters in the Bay thanks to the terrible drought we’ve experience, but this year’s El Nino has already poured rain across the state, so be expecting wet weather if you choose to visit Angel Island this winter. From December through March daytime high temperatures average 56-61 degrees fahrenheit and nighttime lows average 41-45 degrees fahrenheit, so there really isn’t too much difference between night and day. The eastern side of the island is better sheltered from the ocean breezes but the western side gives a front row view of amazing sunsets under the Golden Gate Bridge. East Bay Sites and Sunrise Sites are located on the eastern side of the island near Fort McDowell. Ridge Sites and Kayak Camp are located on the western side of the island near Camp Reynolds. For more information on the campsites check out the brochure and park map from the park’s website. Note that some of the information is outdated but most is still relevant.

Getting to Angel Island is half the fun of the trip. Public ferries run from Tiburon via the Angel Island Ferry and from Pier 41 and the Ferry Building in San Francisco via the Blue and Gold Fleet. Adult tickets cost $15 from Tiburon and $9 from San Francisco. These fares include the park entrance fee as well. Note that during the winter months these ferries only run on weekends, so the earliest you can get to the island is Saturday morning and the latest you can stay is Sunday late afternoon unless you plan to stay the whole week. But there are other options! You can use your own private boat or borrow a friends. Or if you’re like me and don’t own a boat you can charter a private boat or take Tideline Water Taxi. Tideline is a great option, it is pretty expensive but it is still cheaper than chartering a boat and provides the most personalized schedule and service, so you won’t be limited by the ferry schedules.

Big Sur – Central Coast

Big Sur on the California Central Coast is an absolute gem. It epitomizes all the beauty California’s rugged Pacific Coast has to offer. From hundred foot redwoods, backwoods trails and miles of beaches, Big Sur has it all. And thanks to its proximity to the ocean it stays relatively moderate in the winter time, with average high temperatures from December through March ranging from 60-63 degrees fahrenheit and average low temperatures around 43 degrees fahrenheit. As always, in the winter you must be prepared for rain, heavy fog and ocean winds. Big Sur is very busy during the summer months, but during the winter the crowds have dispersed, leaving you with miles of empty trails and beaches to explore.

Perhaps the most amazing part about winter camping in Big Sur is the chance to watch the majestic Gray Whales migrate between Alaska and Baja California. December through early February you can see the whales migrating south, and beginning in February you can see them migrate north with their newborn calves. It is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity to see these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat.

Big Sur has many campgrounds which can be found here. For those of you looking for a little more warmth and comfort I would suggest one of the campgrounds with cabins, such as Big Sur Campgrounds and Cabins or Riverside Campground. Both of these campgrounds also offer many tent and RV sites in addition to their cabin accommodations. Another recommendation for tent and RV camping is Kirk Creek Campground. Kirk Creek is a beautiful campground located on a huge bluff overlooking the ocean. Due to its open location it is susceptible to strong winds and moisture so prepare yourself for that if you choose to stay there.

Lake Tahoe – Northern California / Sierra Nevada Mountains

For those wanting to truly experience the winter, then snow camping on the shores of Lake Tahoe is right for you. During the summer months Lake Tahoe is one of the most popular camping destinations in the world. During the winter months it is one of the most popular skiing destinations in the world. Basically Lake Tahoe is awesome and everyone wants to go there regardless of what month it is.

Sugar Pine Point State Park on the western shore of Lake Tahoe offers the best of both worlds. The camp is one of the only campgrounds in the region open during the winter months for snow camping, and it conveniently located only minutes from some of the world’s greatest alpine ski resorts. Homewood Resort (8 mins), Squaw Valley Resort and Alpine Meadows (32 mins), Heavenly Mountain Resort (45 mins) and Northstar California Resort (50 mins) are all located within an hour drive of the campground. Sugar Pine campground is also a great choice for any first time snow campers since it isn’t far off the beaten path, so any services are accessible nearby.

Sugar Pine Point State Park also offers some of the best cross country skiing and snowshoeing trails the Lake Tahoe region has to offer, all with easy access from the campground. In fact it was these trails which were used for the biathlon and cross-country skiing events in the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympic Winter Games.

And if you still aren’t up to tent camping in the snow you always have the option to find some amazing local cabins to stay in. Airbnb is your best bet for booking one of these.

Mt. San Jacinto State Park – Southern California / San Jacinto Mountains

Snow camping is also readily accessible in Southern California in the beautiful Mt. San Jacinto State Park. Idyllwild Park offers year round camping. Tent camping and RVs are welcome on a first-come/first-serve basis November through March. The campground is located less than three hours from both Los Angeles and San Diego, making it a great option for those looking for a weekend escape from the city life. Snowshoeing and sledding are very popular activities at the park during the winter months.

There is plenty to do in and around the State Park. Including visiting different parts of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument or hiking a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail. You can even spend an afternoon riding the world famous Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, which takes you from Chino Canyon near Palm springs up nearly 6,000 feet to the Mountain Station.

Death Valley National Park – Southern California / Mojave Desert

Death Valley is quite amazing. On July 12, 2012 Furnace Creek in Death Valley National Park broke a heat record when the low temperature was 103 degrees fahrenheit, tying the world record for highest low temperature in a day. Then on July 10, 2013 Furnace Creek broke another heat record with a high temperature of 134 degrees fahrenheit (!!!), breaking the US record previously set in 1913. Needless to say you won’t be dealing with these hellish temperatures during the winter months, in fact Death Valley is downright pleasant during the winter. Average high temps from December through March range from 67 to 81 degrees fahrenheit with average lows ranging from 38 to 53 degrees fahrenheit.

Since Death Valley is in the middle of the desert it is susceptible to big swings in temperatures, with nighttime lows dropping below freezing. This is where winter desert camping mostly differs from winter beach camping. In the desert the temperatures can swing dramatically from day to night while near the ocean the temperatures remain relatively stable.

Tent and RV camping is available at Furnace Creek RV Park and Fiddler’s Campground for $18/night or at Mesquite Spring for $12 a night. Both campgrounds have RV dump stations and flush toilets. For tent campers you can stay at Emigrant or Wildrose Campgrounds. (note: Wildrose accepts any vehicles under 25 feet, Emigrant is tent camping only)

Joshua Tree National Park – Southern California / Mojave Desert

Another great desert camping destination in Southern California is Joshua Tree National Park. The park is easy to access, located only about 2.5 to 3.5 hrs from Los Angeles (depending on traffic of course). Like Death Valley, Joshua Tree is located in the middle of the desert, so while it can be blistering hot during the summer months, it is very pleasant during the winter. With average high temperatures from January through March ranging from 60-70 degrees fahrenheit and average low temperatures ranging from 35 to 42 degrees fahrenheit. For a list of all the campgrounds in Joshua Tree National Park check out here. For a campground in the northern portion of the park I suggest Jumbo Rocks Campground, which costs $15/night and is first-come/first-serve. There is no water and only pit toilets at Jumbo Rocks Campground so be sure you come prepared. For those looking for a campground in the southern portion of the park I suggest Cottonwood Campground for $20/night, which has a dump station, water and flush toilets.

By now you understand that camping in California is both a summertime and wintertime activity. There are many amazing places to escape to in the winter, even if there is snow on the ground. Take advantage of the cheaper fees, shorter reservation times, and uncrowded campgrounds while you can before winter ends. Camping in California never takes a break for the seasons!

Now it’s time to get out there and experience what winter camping in California has to offer! Stay warm, stay safe and stay camping in California!

Large Settlements Show California Businesses Need to Be More Aware of Meal Break Laws

Recently, the city of Los Angeles finalized a $26-million legal settlement for claims that they prohibited naps and placed other restrictions on the city’s trash truck drivers’ meal break periods. And this week, Fedex settled a class action lawsuit for $2.1 million in response to claims these laws had been violated.

When a city as large as Los Angeles and a company as big as FedEx have trouble following the law, it’s important to carefully consider the way meal and rest breaks are handled in your workplace. There are several different aspects of California business law that employers and employees should be aware of including: what constitutes a proper meal break, waivers, exceptions to the general rule, and filing a wage complaint.

In general, California employers must provide employees who work more than five hours in a shift with a meal period.

In California the requirements are that the employee be relieved of all duty, the employer relinquishes control over the employees activities, the break must last for 30 consecutive minutes, and the employee is not be discouraged from taking the break. Also important is the timing: in a normal 8 hour shift, the meal period must be provided before the sixth hour of work.

Note: A common problem occurs when meal period is interrupted by phone calls from other employees, managers or supervisors asking for their assistance. This violates California labor law since the employee does not get 30 consecutive minutes.

A meal break waiver is only allowed in limited circumstances. Employers and employees may mutually agree to waive a meal break it the employee’s shift is six hours or less. Although it’s not required it is recommended to document the waiver in writing every time a meal period is waived.

Remember: If the employee works 6 or more they must be provided a meal break even if they have signed a waiver.

In very limited circumstances in California, an employer and employee can agree to receive on-duty meal breaks. The employer and employee must have a signed agreement that the employee can revoke at any time, the employee must get a chance to eat while on-duty, and ‘the nature of the work’ must prevent the employee from being relieved of all duty. Whether ‘nature of the work’ prevents the employee from being relieved of all duty is determined by looking at the type of work, the availability of other employees to provide coverage, and whether the product or service will be destroyed or damaged by the 30 minute break.

Important: Consult with an employment attorney before deciding to conduct on-duty meal breaks. The courts and labor commission scrutinize these arrangements.

In California, if an employee feels their meal break rights have been violated they can file a wage claim with the State Labor Commissioner’s Office in addition to the United States Department of Labor. They may file a civil action on behalf of him or herself as well as others who are similarly situated.

Note: Careful consideration should be used when deciding to file a case in the California Superior Court or filing an administrative complaint. There are advantages and disadvantages to either approach.

Car Donations In California

A California vehicle donation here in the “Golden State” may help someone in need in your own community. An entire family could possibly end up getting helped by your generosity. And you may even get a tax deduction along the way. But these are not necessarily the best benefits.

Are there special rules for donating my vehicle in California?

Just a few special rules for the CA DMV (Division of Motor Vehicles: You must leave the license plates on the vehicle (most states you are required to remove them), and you must fill out a Release of Liability form. This form can be downloaded from the CA DMV website or filled out in person.

A tax break is just the start: Depending on your situation, you could immediately free your premises of a possible eyesore. You might get additional parking space and/or regain space in your garage (or perhaps your yard). You’ll be able to circumvent the hassles as well as cost of having to refurbish an old motor vehicle in order to get it ready to sell – not to mention having to advertise it and find a buyer for it. These jobs are hassles and require your time to be able to complete them – your valuable time.

Free towing from your place: You may be thinking that repairing and selling your older car may get you a little more money as compared to donating it. Although this may be true, your car donation in CA can instantly take care of these time-consuming inconveniences. Remember your time isn’t free, yet most non profit organizations will tow your car or truck for you – and for free. So this really is like money in the bank for you.

Non-running vehicles often accepted: And if your car or truck is non-running – and maybe even up on blocks, it is still more than worth it for the charity: The salvage yard will pay the charity enough money to cover towing plus some leftover for the needy. And in case your donated vehicle is valued above $500 (figured through Kelly Blue Book or NADA), you can claim more than the standard five hundred bucks tax deduction!

Beware of bogus “charities:” California has many bogus car donation “charities.” Most of them are eventually busted and deactivated, but for every one that gets shut down, a new one appears. So how do you recognize which of them are legitimate?

One way is to check that any California charity you may be considering is registered with the state. Here’s a link to the CA Charitable Organization Financial Database search:

Another link from the Attorney General of California is the Registry of Charitable Trusts (RCT), which can be found on this page:

Charity ‘watchdog’ websites: It turns out the answer is really simple – An easy search online using at least one of the online companies which qualifies charities based on a variety of factors. Simply type the name of the charitable organization in the search box on the ‘charity watchdog’ site. Or you could query the California Attorney General Office’s website, or the Secretary of State website. Most states, like California, require nonprofits to register with them, and have searchable databases on their websites.

But another caution here: Nearly all of the Attorney Generals (including California) are quick to emphasize that although a charity is registered with them does not imply that the charity is necessarily a good one. Registration means exactly that – that the charitable organization registered as required.

It’s interesting to note that part of the registration with the states (in the ones that require charities to register) is the requirement to submit financial reports every year. However, it is easy for the bogus charitable groups to fudge these reports, submitting figures that make them appear legit and ‘above board.’

So check the charity out at two sites: Because we now understand that fraudulent car donation charities may be registered with the state of California, it’s a wise idea to check out any charity you may be considering at a minimum of two websites:

Not only confirm that the organization is registered with California, but it is also listed ‘in good standing’ with one or more of the web based ‘charity watchdog’ agencies.

You having nothing to lose and everything to gain! So now you know how to choose a high quality vehicle donation charity here in California. Not only will you be doing something truly good for somebody or some family in your community, you may even get the tax deduction. And don’t forget all those time-saving and hassle-saving fringe benefits of donating your old vehicle!

Calendaring in California State Court

Calendaring-related errors are the leading cause of malpractice lawsuits, particularly in California, where deadlines come from several sources, including the Code of Civil Procedure, the California Rules of Court, and local rules. Usually, calculating a single deadline requires the application of several codes and rules. A single error, e.g., using an old rule, forgetting to add extra time based on the service method (or adding extra time when you should not), counting calendar days instead of court days, missing a holiday, or simply miscounting, will cause a calendaring error.

I cannot stress enough the importance of using a computerized calendaring program to calculate your deadlines. By computerized calendaring, I do not mean that you manually calculate the deadline and enter it on a calendar on your computer, or that you use an electronic calendar to help you calculate the date that is five days before or after a given date. I mean rules-based computerized calendaring, such as Deadlines On Demand or Abacus Law. With these programs, you simply enter an “event,” and they automatically calculate the deadlines for you in accordance with the applicable codes and rules.

Even with rules-based computerized calendaring, however, you need to know how to calendar manually. What if you need to calendar something when your computer is down or inaccessible? What if your computer is fully operational, but you do not know enough to tell it that something needs calendaring? You must know the calendaring steps.

Calendaring Steps

Step 1: Identify the triggering event

A “triggering event” is anything which triggers one or more deadlines. A triggering event might be the filing of a document, the service of a document, or an appearance. For example: filing a complaint, serving a complaint, entering default, answering a complaint, serving interrogatories, serving interrogatory responses, a hearing date, a deposition date, settlement, etc. To identify triggering events in your case, assume that everything you file with the court and/or serve on opposing counsel, and everything you are served with, including notices from the court, involves a triggering event, i.e., something needs to be calendared.

Step 2: Identify what is triggered

Once you have recognized that a triggering event has occurred, you need to identify what has been triggered. For example: filing a complaint triggers the deadline to serve defendant and file Proof of Service of Summons, serving the complaint triggers the deadline for defendant to serve the response, a hearing on a motion triggers the deadline to file and serve notice of motion, opposition, and reply. Sometimes deadlines are triggered which are less obvious. Rules-based computerized calendaring may reveal deadlines you would not have thought of on your own. For example, filing a complaint also triggers the last day for plaintiff to challenge the judge assigned to the case, last day to hold case management conference, first day for defendant to make a motion for summary judgment, last day to bring the action to trial.

Step 3: Identify the current codes and rules which apply to the deadlines

Once you have determined what is triggered, you need to identify the current codes and rules governing the applicable deadlines. It is not enough to identify the correct code section or rule number; you must be sure to apply the current deadline in the code section or rule. In California, the codes and rules are “moving targets.” The one you memorized last year or the year before may be different today. This is another benefit of rules-based computerized calendaring programs — they are updated to apply the current code sections and rules.

Step 4: Correctly apply those codes and rules

This is the most difficult part. It requires several steps which must be accomplished in order and painstakingly applied. It involves identifying what to count, how to count, and then actually counting in conformance with certain very specific rules. Again, rules-based computerized calendaring programs do all of this instantly.

Step 4A: Identify the time frame for each triggered deadline

When calculating the due date for a response to a complaint, you have to know that the relevant time frame begins with the effective date of service (and you have to know how to determine the effective date of service). When calculating the due date for responses to written discovery, you have to know that the relevant time frame begins with the date the discovery was served, and ends with the date the responses are to be served.

Once you have identified the time period you need to count, you need to know exactly how to count the days in that time period.

Step 4B: Identify what date to start counting and what date to stop counting

C.C.P. § 12 provides: “The time in which any act provided by law is to be done is computed by excluding the first day and including the last, unless the last day is a holiday, and then it is also excluded.” Thus, if interrogatories are served on April 1st (the date, according to the proof of service, that they were mailed, faxed, etc.), in order to calculate the 30-day deadline to respond, you start counting with April 2nd as the first day, April 3rd as the second day, and keep counting until you reach the 30th day, May 1st. So long as the interrogatories were personally served, and so long as May 1st is not a weekend or a holiday, the deadline to serve responses is May 1st.

Step 4B(1): Counting or skipping interim weekends and California holidays

In order to calendar correctly, you must know whether to count or skip weekends and California holidays occurring during the relevant time frame. This depends upon whether you are supposed to count “calendar days” or “court days.” In that regard, unless a code or rule specifies “court days,” as is the case with notices of motion, oppositions, and replies under C.C.P. § 1005(b), you are supposed to count calendar days. Thus, “five days” means “five calendar days.”

Of course, you cannot count court days unless you know the holidays in the court in which your case is pending. You must be very careful to use a calendar which shows the California holidays. In addition to the federal holidays, California celebrates Lincoln’s Birthday (February 12th), Cesar Chavez Day (March 31st), and the day after Thanksgiving. For the period September 1, 2009 through June 30, 2010, California courts were also closed on the third Wednesday of each month, and those days were considered holidays for calendaring purposes.

Step 4B(2): Determine the last day – deal with weekends, holidays, and extra time

When calculating the last day to perform an act triggered by the service of a document (e.g., last day to respond to a discovery demand, last day to make a motion to compel further responses to discovery), you must consider how the document which triggered the deadline was served. If it was personally served, there is one procedure; if it was not personally served, additional steps must be taken. In either case, you need to know what happens when the last day to do something lands on a holiday, and you need to know how to determine the “last day.”

C.C.P. § 12a(a) provides: “If the last day for the performance of any act provided or required by law to be performed within a specified period of time is a holiday, then that period is hereby extended to and including the next day that is not a holiday.” “Holiday” includes all of the California holidays and weekends. Thus, if the last day is a Saturday, the deadline would be extended to Monday, so long as it is not a holiday. If Monday is a holiday, then the deadline would be extended to Tuesday.

(a) For personal service, adjust when the last day falls on a weekend or California holiday

If the 30th day after interrogatories were personally served is a Saturday, this is the “last day” under C.C.P. § 12a(a). Since the last day is a weekend, the due date is extended to the next court day, Monday (unless it is a holiday).

(b) For a triggering document not personally served, first add the applicable extension of time to determine the last day, then adjust when the last day falls on a weekend or California holiday

As a general rule, documents may be served personally (also referred to as service “by hand” or “hand delivery”), by mail, by express mail, or overnight delivery (C.C.P. §§ 1011, 1013), and, so long as the recipient has agreed to accept service by these methods, service generally may be made by fax (C.R.C., Rule 2.306) or electronically (C.C.P. § 1010.6(a)(6) and C.R.C., Rule 2.260). Every method other than hand delivery has associated extensions of time.

These extensions of time are mandated because, for the most part, deadlines and notice periods start running from the date documents are served, not the date they are received by the opposing party. For example, responses to interrogatories are due 30 days after the interrogatories are served; a motion to compel further responses must be filed within 45 days after the responses to interrogatories are served; a deposition may be taken ten days after the notice of taking deposition is served; a motion may be heard 16 court days after notice of the motion is served.

Any method other than personal service will result in a delay between the act of service and the person’s actual receipt of the document. In that regard, service by mail is deemed complete upon deposit in a USPS mail box (C.C.P. § 1013(a)), but the papers might not arrive in the recipient’s mail for days. Service by fax is deemed complete upon transmission of the entire document to the receiving party’s fax machine (C.C.P. § 1013(e) and C.R.C., Rule 2.306(g)), but that does not mean the document will be in the hands of the intended recipient that day. A document served electronically is deemed complete upon transmission (C.C.P. § 1010.6(a)(6)), but it may sit unopened in the recipient’s email inbox for hours, if not days.

To obviate any inherent prejudice in this delay in receipt of a document, various extensions of time are added depending upon the type of document served and the method by which it is served. These extensions of time are found in C.C.P. §§1013, 1005(b), and 1010.6. Note: By their own terms, these code sections are not always applicable! Fortunately, rules-based calendaring programs know when they are and when they are not.

Extensions for Service by Mail under C.C.P. § 1013 and 1005(b)

Add five days for service by mail to a person within California; ten days outside California, but within the U.S., and twenty days outside the U.S. These extensions would apply to notice periods for depositions, hearings on motions, and time to respond or act within a given time period.

Extensions for Fax/Overnight Delivery/Express Mail under C.C.P. § 1013 and 1005(b)

C.C.P. §1013 adds two court days; C.C.P. § 1005(b) (for motions only) adds two calendar days. These extensions would apply to notice periods for depositions, hearings on motions, and time to respond or act within a given time period. This two court day vs. two calendar day difference is an unfortunate one, which seems to invite errors. It is easy to forget which period of time you are supposed to add. Sometimes the result will be the same, e.g., when the next two days are non-holiday weekdays, they are both calendar days and court days. However, when one or both of the next two days fall on a weekend or a holiday, there is room for error.

Extensions for Electronic Service

C.C.P. § 1010.6 adds two court days to notice periods and time to respond or act.

Here’s how these provisions would extend the time within which to respond to interrogatories, depending upon how they are served: service by mail on a party in California – five extra days; service by fax, overnight delivery or express mail – two extra court days; service by electronic service – two extra court days.

Were the extensions applied to service of a notice of motion, service by mail would extend the period by five days; fax, overnight delivery or express mail would extend the period by two days; and electronic service would extend the period by two court days.

It is at this point in the calendaring process that you provide for the extra days. It is imperative that you know where to add them.

Rule of Thumb

When determining the last day to respond to a document not personally served, the “last day” is determined by counting the number of days allotted pursuant to the applicable code section or rule, and then immediately adding the applicable extension of time. For example, if Saturday, November 14th is the 30th day after service of interrogatories by mail, to determine the “last day,” you simply continue counting until you reach the 35th day, November 19th. You do not make any adjustment for the fact that day 30 was a Saturday, because it is not the “last day.” If Saturday, November 14th is the 30th day after service of interrogatories by fax, to determine the “last day,” you simply continue counting two court days, to Tuesday, November 17th. You do not make any adjustment for the fact that day 30 was a Saturday, because it is not the “last day.”

Another Rule of Thumb

When in doubt, serve your responses earlier rather than later, and err on the side of giving more notice rather than less.

As you can see, winding one’s way through the California state court calendaring maze is difficult at best. It certainly gets easier with experience, and simple calculations may become almost second nature. However, given the constant changes in the codes and rules, the potential for human error at every step of the way, and the dire results of a missed deadline, rules-based computerized calendaring should be utilized.

Etymology and Demography of Sonoma County, California

Etymology is the study or the science of words, their history, their origins, their sources, the time periods in which they made it into a specific language or a set of languages and under which circumstances as well as the evolvement and transformation of their meanings. Demography, on the other hand, is the study or science of the very important statistical information about communities, populations, societies or nations. Demography is that part of human history which deals most specifically with mathematical accounts of births, adoptions, deaths, diseases, immigration and emigration, marriages, divorces, and so on.

Due to the obvious fact that it is human population which uses language to name objects, activities, situations and everything else and because each individual society take on or formulates words based on its life experiences, philosophies, traditions and cultures, I contend that etymology and demography go hand in hand.

It is my intention to introduce you to the etymology of California and Sonoma within the context of the demographic markers of the territory which we know today as Sonoma County of Northern California. Let us begin with the larger entity – California. The etymology of “california” has two very distinct theoretical presumptions, both of which stem from the Spanish language spoken by the region’s occupying military and missionary forces of Mexico and Spain. One presumption maintains that California was named by Herman Contes, a Spanish conqueror of Mexico, after a queen named Caliphia who reigned over a legendary island mentioned in ancient Greek Mythology. The second and the more credible presumption asserts that California was named by early Spanish settlers who reacted to the region’s intense heat and called it Caliente Fornalla which means “hot furnace” in Spanish and it later, no one knows exactly when, it transformed to Calenforna and then to California.

The first known reference to a place called California was made in romance novel called “La Sergas de Esplandian” that was written and published in 1510 by a Spanish author named Garcia Ordonez de Montalvo.

The etymological explanation of the name of Sonoma County is based on translations from the tribal languages of the Coast Miwok and the Pomo Indians. Those languages are very similar and their word “sonoma” means “valley of the moon” or “many moons” in English. According to ancient legends of these native Indian tribes, this territory is where the moon chose its permanent nesting. The first known records where Sonoma was mentioned in writing were within the pages of log books of baptisms and they date back to 1816. The first translated version, “Valley of the Moon,” appeared in a correspondence written by General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo to the Ligislature of the State of California in 1850. Jack London, the famous American writer, brought the English translation of Sonoma to public awareness when he first published his well received novel “The Valley of the Moon” in 1913.

Another school of etymologists came up with a different theory based on the fact that there are two very commonly occurring suffixes in the native languages of the Sonoma County and they are: “tso” which means “earth” and “noma” which means “village.’ Put the two together and you end up with “tsonoma” and its English translation, “earth village.”

Well, there you have it; the etymology and demography of Sonoma County as part of the State of California in a nutshell.

University of Southern California (USC) Trojans Heisman Trophy Winners – 7 Total Recipients

There have been seven football players from the University of Southern California (USC) Trojans who have won the Heisman Trophy. The seven football players that have won the seven Heisman awards are as follows:

  • Mike Garrett, a halfback, won in 1965
  • O.J. Simpson, a tailback, received the award in 1968
  • Charles White, a running back, accepted the honor in 1979
  • Marcus Allen in 1981 became the fourth running back from USC to win the award
  • Carson Palmer was the first quarterback for the Trojans to win the award when he accepted it in 2002
  • Matt Leinart played quarterback for the University of Southern California and received the Heisman award in 2004
  • Reggie Bush in 2005 was named the fifth USC running back to take home the award

With a total of seven Heisman Trophies produced by Southern Cal the institution of higher learning based in Los Angeles, California is tied for the most received by any school. Both the University of Notre Dame and Ohio State University each match the impressive number of seven trophies by a single school. Because Ohio State has the distinction of producing the only two time winner in Archie Griffin Notre Dame and the University of Southern California actually stand together as the only two colleges to produce seven different winners.

The Heisman Trophy is named after football pioneer John Heisman and was first bestowed upon Jay Berwanger of the University of Chicago in 1935. Over the decades the award has become widely accepted as the most highly touted and prestigious individual accolade in the sport of college football. Despite the association of the Heisman being given to the most outstanding college football player, winning the honor has proved to be no guarantee of professional success.

In terms of the seven Trojans players who have had the honor of winning the Heisman Trophy two of those men transitioned from college football to the National Football League (NFL) as the number one overall picks of the NFL Draft in their respective years. The two players chosen with the first pick of the first round in NFL Drafts are Orenthal James (O.J.) Simpson who was taken by the Buffalo Bills in 1969 and Carson Palmer who was selected with the first pick of the 2003 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals.

Despite slipping to the number 10 overall pick by the Los Angeles Raiders in 1982 Marcus Allen joined O.J. Simpson in 2003 as the only two former USC players to win Heisman Trophies and be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

California Fishing

California is the most populous state in the United States of America, but there is still plenty of room to fish. California is broken up into six distinct regions, all with various fishing regulations. California boasts 1,100 miles of ocean coastline, 220,000 square miles of ocean waters, 4,172 lakes and reservoirs, 29,664 miles of streams and rivers, and 1,800 miles of bay and delta waters, California has more fishing opportunities than any other state in the country. With that amount of water available to fish in, California is an anglers dream.

If you’re interested in deep sea fishing, ocean wade fishing, river and stream fishing, or lake fishing for Largemouth Bass, California can accommodate you. California has almost every species of game fish available to the avid angler. From crappie to sturgeon and every freshwater fish in between, California has them. And saltwater fish from mackerel to great white sharks can all be found off of the California coast as well.

As far as freshwater fishing goes, one of the best methods for fishing live bait is a set of gang hooks. A set of gang hooks is simply two small hooks tied in tandem. Small hooks work well, because they are then concealed with in bait quite nicely. In fact, gang hooks are the best way to present a live worm, as well as many other live types of live bait. The biggest strong point is that gang hooks enable the angler to present the bait naturally, rather than trying to thread the worm onto a larger single hook. If you’re bait fishing in California, you may want to give gang hooks a shot,

Remember, a California fishing license is required to fish in the state of California. A fishing license will run you from $37.50 for a resident to $100 for a non resident. If you’re traveling, a two day license is available for less than $20. And if you happen to be going after Steelhead on inland waters in California, you need a Steelhead report card, which is under $10. As you can see, fishing in California isn’t at all an expensive proposition (especially for residents). If you plan on staying in California for the rest of your life, there is even lifetime fishing licenses available, which is really good idea.

The bottom line is if your like to fish, California is an anglers paradise. Any type of fishing that you can imagine is available within the state of California. And with its thousands of miles of coastline, there are good runs of both salmon and steelhead as well. Many states within the United States don’t offer fishing for these wonderful fish simply because of their proximity to large bodies of water. Yep, as far as the sport of fishing goes, California is a hard state to beat.

Southern California Family Vacation Without the Crowds

If you live in Southern California, you know that summer brings out the crowds-visitors from around the country and around the world.. That means it’s hard to go anywhere without running into lots of people and traffic-two main ingredients that makes kids (and parents) cranky.

One place that seems to have held on to its laid-back California charm and has lots of kid-friendly fun is Ventura, particularly the three cities known as VenturaCountyWest (Camarillo, Oxnard and Ventura). Located up the 101 Freeway north from Los Angeles, VenturaCountyWest features uncrowded beaches (with free parking), ocean adventures and tons of easy-to-get-to kids’ summer activities. Here are some to check out.

Channel Islands National Park

Take a tour boat to the Channel Islands National Park out of either Ventura or Channel Islands (Oxnard) harbors. The islands are only 11 miles off the Ventura County coast. On the way, you can see dolphins, seals, pelicans and other wildlife. Hikes, overnight stays, kayaking are all available once arriving on shore. Tours are booked through Island Packers,

Ventura Harbor Village

Ventura Harbor Village contains an arcade featuring an old-fashioned indoor carousel, arcade and a candy shop with more than 20 varieties of fudge (made fresh daily). Families can rent paddle and electric boats to tour the quiet harbor channels. Back on shore, plan on eating at one of the casual harbor side restaurants featuring freshly caught seafood.

Ventura County Fairgrounds’ Raceway

“Midget” cars, motorcycles and all sorts of other racing vehicles take to the track almost every weekend at the Ventura County Fairgrounds in Ventura. It’s all good fun as you cheer on your favorite driver.

Gull Wings Children’s Museum

This children’s museum in Oxnard is very unassuming from the outside, but once inside, the eight and under set will have so much to do and see that they won’t know where to begin. They can dress up as firefighters, doctors or pretend they are astronauts landing on the moon in an Apollo spacecraft. There are snakes to hold, treasure to find in a geological dig and plenty of Legos to build whatever they wish. Kids can try their hand at rock wall climbing or let their imaginations go while in the driver’s seat of an actual car.

Sky High Sports

You won’t find a big sign announcing Sky High Sports Camarillo from the freeway. It’s in an industrial park-it has to be-the place is huge. It’s filled with trampolines with super padded floors and walls. Kids can play trampoline dodge ball and other organized games or… just jump. All under supervision. Sky High also has laser tag. Kids are sure to come out sweaty and tired-a perfect way to spend an afternoon.