A will (or “Last Will and Testament”) is your basic estate planning document that dictates where your property will go when you die. It's also where you can name a guardian for your children and an executor for your estate. The person who makes a will is called the testator.
Generally, to create a valid will in California, it must be executed according to the following legal requirements:
- Signature: It must be signed by the testator (or by someone else at the testator's direction and in his or her presence, or by a conservator by court order).
- Attestation: 2 people must sign who either witnessed the testator sign the will or witnessed him or her acknowledge the signature (or acknowledge the will itself). The witnesses must understand that they are signing the testator's will.
- Intent: If the witness formalities are not properly carried out, the will might still be considered valid if it can be shown, by clear and convincing evidence, that the testator intended the document to be his or her will when it was signed.
California also recognizes holographic wills. Holographic wills are handwritten by the testator, and may be considered valid even if not attested (witnessed). It must signed by the testator and the material provisions (such as names of beneficiaries and what they are to receive) must be in the testator's handwriting.
Stand-alone wills are often used for people with small, simple estates. If your estate is worth more than $150,000, it will have to go through probate. Probate is the process of administering your estate under the supervision of the court. It usually takes at least 9 months, but can extend to well over a year (or longer, if there is a dispute). Probate can be avoided by setting up a living trust in addition to your will, and transferring your property into the trust before you die.
Helix Law Firm can guide you through the estate planning process
We can help you draft a living trust, will, and any other estate planning documents you might need.