How to Make a Legal Will in California

By Christine Funk, J.D.

How to Make a Legal Will in California

By Christine Funk, J.D.

If you are a resident of the State of California, you can create your own will. There are two different ways to write this document yourself, and both are legally sufficient. However, they have somewhat different requirements. In either event, when you create this paperwork, you create a legal document that provides for the distribution of your property and guardianship of your underage children.

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1. Decide which will is right for you.

You can prepare your will with a form created by the State of California, or you can write one yourself.

Statutory Wills

You may choose to fill out a California Statutory Will, pursuant to California Probate Code Section 6240. If you take this approach, you simply fill in each blank as provided on the form. After you fill in the blanks, date and sign the document. Law requires you to have two witnesses observe you sign the document and then sign it themselves. These witnesses must be over the age of 18.

Holographic Wills

If you do not have witnesses available and cannot or do not want to wait for witnesses to be available, you can execute a handwritten version, sometimes referred to as a holographic will. With this type of will, you write out the document in your own handwriting. Any typed portion could be invalid. To be valid, your handwriting must be legible. Include your complete name and address on each page of the document.

2. Determine distribution of property.

Make a list of all the property you own. This can include a home, land, vehicles, boats, jewelry, art, china, household goods, and tools. Don't forget about online bank accounts or investment accounts. Once you know what you have, you can identify beneficiaries. Beneficiaries are the people you designate to receive your property. They can include spouses, children, domestic partners, friends, and favored charities. You can choose to leave a beneficiary a certain sum of money or specific object. Alternatively, you can leave all of your money or all of your tools to a certain person. Consider adding a sentence about who inherits any property you may have forgotten about or you may acquire between the time of your will and the time you actually die.

When you identify someone as a beneficiary, include their full name, their address, their phone number, and, if you have it, their date of birth. You want to make certain your property transfers to the right person. By providing more information, you are more likely to avoid confusion as to your intent.

3. Name guardians.

If you have any children under age 18, identify who you want to raise your children after your death. You can name different guardians to raise your children and to manage your children's assets. If your child still has another living parent, you may still want to name a guardian to manage your child's assets until they come of legal age.

4. Name an executor.

You need to name an executor. An executor oversees the distribution of your property and carries out your wishes. It is a good idea to name an alternate executor as well.

5. Identify other assets and review beneficiary designations.

Some assets are not subject to a will. These include:

  • Life insurance policies
  • Assets owned in joint tenancy with right of survivorship
  • Community property with right of survivorship
  • Pay on death or transfer on death accounts
  • Retirement accounts

Make certain the designated beneficiaries identified in these assets are those you wish to inherit this property. You cannot declare a beneficiary in the document that trumps your previous designation.

6. Sign and date your will.

In order for your paperwork to be valid, you must sign and date it. Remember, if you have chosen a statutory will, you also must have two witnesses sign the document.

7. Store your will in a safe place.

Make sure you put this document in a safe place. This could include a fireproof safe or a safety deposit box. Make certain that at least one friend or family member knows where you've stored your will. Your will is of little use if no one knows to look for one.

Filing paperwork acceptable to the State of California, deciding what kind of will you intend to file, and determining the details in advance will help you safeguard your assets for the future.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.