How to Write a Will and Assign a Legal Guardian in California

By Larissa Bodniowycz, J.D.

How to Write a Will and Assign a Legal Guardian in California

By Larissa Bodniowycz, J.D.

A California will is an estate planning tool that allows you to ensure that your property and children are cared for in the way you want after you pass away. A will sets out who will wrap up your affairs, receive and manage your property, and take care of your children after your death.

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It is easy to put off preparing a will because it involves thinking about your death and you may not know where to start. Start with the following steps, which break down the process of writing one and assigning a legal guardian in California.

1. Decide Who Will Administer Your Estate

Someone needs to wrap up your affairs after you pass away. Among other tasks, accounts need to be closed to transferred, the title to property needs to be changed, real estate may need to be sold, and investments need to be managed properly until they can be transferred or distributed.

When you die with a will, the person that is responsible for wrapping up your affairs is called the executor of your estate. You get to decide who you want to serve as your executor. You can choose one person or multiple people to serve jointly. You can also appoint alternative executors in case your first choice is unwilling or unable to serve.

2. Decide How You Want to Distribute Your Assets

Make a list of all of your assets including property, such as cars and real estate, and accounts, such as checking accounts and retirement investment accounts. Save a copy of this list for your executor and tell them where it is. It will help them a lot.

Once you have a full list, decide how you want those assets to be distributed when you pass away. For assets titled in your name alone, you have almost endless options. You can grant all of your property to the same person. This is common if you have a spouse. You can divide your property among different people. You can even leave assets to charity.

You are more restricted on what you can do with assets that you have with someone else. You may be able to leave your percentage share to someone other than the joint owner or your interest may automatically pass to the other person. It depends on how the asset is titled.

3. Choose One or More Guardians

A guardian is the person legally responsible for caring for a child and managing their affairs until they are age 18. You and your child's other parent are automatically your child's guardians until your child is 18 years old, unless there has been some legal process to change that arrangement. If you pass away, your child's other parent will become their sole guardian unless they predeceased you or their parental rights have been terminated.

Your will can appoint one or more guardians for your child in case you and your child's other parent pass away before your child turns 18. California recognizes two different types of guardians: guardian of property and guardian of the person. You can select the same person to serve as both or divide the responsibility between two different people. You can also include alternative guardians who will serve if your first choice cannot.

4. Write and Sign Your Will

After you make the key decisions above, write your will and sign it. You can use an attorney or online legal service provider to help you write one and ensure you do not overlook something that you should include.

Once a will is written, it needs to be signed by you, or in limited circumstances it can be signed by someone else at your direction. You must follow California laws on how it should be signed or it may be declared invalid. A completely handwritten will, called holographic, must be signed by you, but no other signatures or witnesses are required. Holographic wills are only recommended for emergency situations because their validity is often challenged. All others should be signed in the presence of two disinterested witnesses, then signed by those witnesses. You are not required to get a will notarized in California.

Writing a will and assigning a guardian can take a little time and be emotionally taxing. Learning how to go about this process the right way; however, is a small price to pay for peace of mind. Consider all the facets involved and ask for help if you need some. Then, when you have it exactly how you'd like it, sign it, and go on to live your life to the fullest.

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.