How to Make a Legal Will in California

by Teo Spengler
    A holographic will must be handwritten by the maker.

    A holographic will must be handwritten by the maker.

    Jupiterimages/ Images

    If you are a California resident who is 18 years or older, you can make a valid will without a great expenditure of time or money. Those with simple holdings can write a will themselves, dispensing with attorneys, notaries and even witnesses. The California Probate Code specifically approves a handwritten will -- termed a holographic will -- for state residents. While a holographic will is not for everybody -- more complicated estates might benefit from legal advice and tax-planning assistance -- a simple handwritten will remains a valid, viable option.

    Step 1

    Determine what property you possess and whom you wish to inherit that property when you die. Include all your separate property -- real estate, vehicles, bank accounts, investments, personal articles -- and your share of the marital property, if any.

    Step 2

    Write by hand on a clean sheet of paper your name and address, followed by a statement of your intention to set out in the written document the division of property at your death.

    Step 3

    List the property that you currently have and identify the persons you wish to inherit each piece. Describe the beneficiaries by name, address, phone number, or in any other way that best identifies them. Include the name of the person who will inherit any property you have forgotten to list.

    Step 4

    Write a final paragraph specifying whom you wish to be executor of your will. Select an alternative executor in case the first-named executor cannot or will not serve.

    Step 5

    Sign and date the will. Store it in a safe place, such as a personal safe or a safety deposit box.

    Tips & Warnings

    • Be certain that you write the entire holographic will in your own hand, including will terms, date and signature. To use any printed material risks invalidation of the holographic will. If you decide to use a preprinted will form -- including California's statutory will form -- you will need two witnesses.
    • If you decide to name an executor, ask the person if she is willing to serve in that capacity before writing her name into the will.
    • Many people can profit from legal advice and tax planning. Consider carefully whether you need an attorney before deciding to write a holographic will.

    About the Author

    Living in France and Northern California, Teo Spengler is an attorney, novelist and writer and has published thousands of articles about travel, gardening, business and law. Spengler holds a Master of Arts in creative writing from San Francisco State University and a Juris Doctor from UC Berkeley. She is currently a candidate for a Master of Fine Arts in fiction.

    Photo Credits

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