How to Create a Valid Will in California

A Last Will and Testament, usually referred to as simply a “will,” can accomplish many things in your estate plan. It is perhaps best known for being the mechanism outlining how you wish your property to be distributed after you pass away. A will, however, can do much more. You can name the executor of your estate in your will. This is the person tasked with administering your estate according to the terms of your will and is also responsible for things such as paying the outstanding debts of the estate. You may also name a guardian for your minor children in your will. In addition to a guardian, you also have the ability to name a person who will manage the property you leave for your minor children. If you do not have a valid will when you pass away, your estate will be distributed according to state intestacy laws. Like other states, the intestacy laws of California distribute property to closest relatives and, in the absence of closer relatives, goes down a list of increasingly distant relatives. Should you have no known living relatives, your property will pass to the state. This is why it is so important to create a will and one that is valid, meaning it complies with state requirements.

How to Create a Valid Will in California

In order to create a valid will in California, the will must be in writing. California does not recognize oral wills as valid. A will may be handwritten and still valid, but must comply with the other requirements of establishing a valid will in California. You must be at least 18 years of age if you are creating a will. You must also sign your will in front of two witnesses, or acknowledge your signature on the will in front of two witnesses. The two witnesses must sign your will at the same time as each other. It’s also important that neither of the two witnesses be a beneficiary under your will. Under California law, there is a presumption that any bequest to a witness of a will’s execution was made under duress. The witness, in turn, could lose the stated gift.
There is an exception to the requirement of having two witnesses to signing your will. California does recognize what are referred to as “holographic wills.” Usually made in emergency situations, holographic wills are entirely handwritten, unwitnessed wills that may still be valid. The state recognizes the validity of holographic wills because there may be certain deathbed situations where there is no time for witnesses. It should be noted, however, that, while holographic wills may be valid, they are particularly susceptible to attack and may not hold up to a challenge to its validity.
California does not require that a will be notarized. Some states give you the option to make your will “self-proving” by getting it notarized. This means that the probate court would not need to bring in the witnesses to establish the validity of the will. In California, as long as your will is signed and witnessed correctly, it will be self-proven without the need for notarization.

Estate Planning Attorneys

It is so important to protect your legacy and the future of you and your loved ones to create an estate plan as soon as possible. Life gets in the way and people put off estate planning. Make estate planning a priority and take control of the future. At OC Wills & Trust Attorneys, we create strong, comprehensive estate plans designed to withstand any legal challenges that may be thrown their way. Contact us today.

Brian Chew, the managing partner of OC Wills & Trust Attorneys, has extensive experience in the areas of estate planning, asset protection planning, business succession planning, long-term care planning, and veterans’ benefits. By devoting his practice to estate planning matters, he has founded a firm that strives to provide exceptional service to their clients by working closely with individuals and their families to create comprehensive and customized estate plans. For the past twenty five years, Brian has served thousands of clients in the matters of estate planning, wills and trusts. If you have any questions about this article, you can reach Brian Chew here.