California Law on Wills

By Carrie Ferland

By establishing a will, you can avoid administration of your estate under California intestate succession laws. However, merely writing a will is not sufficient for the state to recognize your wishes -- your will must comply with the guidelines defined by the California Probate Code for the state to acknowledge its validity. While a will that overlooks only one requirement may still uphold in court, you risk the court putting aside your entire will if you fail to comply with these guidelines.


California probate law defines any person of sound mind, who is at least 18 years of age, as competent to establish and execute a will. The law extends exemptions for persons as young as 16 who are legally married, actively serving in the military and/or are the parent of their own minor child may also execute a will without first requesting the court’s permission. However, a conservator may not establish or execute a will on behalf on a conservatee unless and until he obtains authorization or is explicitly directed to do so by the probate court.

Written Wills

California probate law originally required all wills to be in writing. This is, by far, the most common way to establish a will throughout the state. To establish a valid, written will under California law, the testator must draft a typewritten document appointing an executor, directing the division of her assets and defining any of her additional instructions. The testator must then sign the document in the presence of a notary public, who must notarize the document as well, or in the presence of two disinterested witnesses.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan

Holographic Wills

State probate law also recognizes the validity of a holographic will, which is a will drafted entirely in the testator’s handwriting. California law only requires the testator to sign the bottom of the document for it to uphold during probate; however, it is still in good practice to have the document notarized or to have at least one disinterested witness sign, as well.

Videotaped Wills

The more recent practice of testator's video recording their wills prompted California to recognize the validity of videotapes, provided the testator appears on camera for the duration of the video. Videotaped wills do not have to follow a specific format, but the testator should address the appointment of his administrators and the division of his assets. California probate law does not require the testator to prepare any written version alongside the videotape, as long as the content of the video satisfies the requisite information.


California law requires that any witness to a will must be competent at the time of signing. A competent witness is defined as any individual who is at least 18 years of age and of sound mind. Witnesses should have no interest in the will, for example, they should not be named beneficiaries, but California does permit an interested party to witness a will when no other witness is available; a will witnessed by an interested party is not automatically void. Unsigned, typewritten wills are only considered valid when the surviving family can demonstrate exigent circumstances and provide substantive proof that the decedent intended the unsigned document as her final will.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan
Is a Hand-Written Notarized Will Legal?


Related articles

Number of Witnesses Required for Signing a Will in Alabama

Many states recognize a last will and testament as valid even if it is handwritten with no witnesses to the maker’s or testator’s signature. Alabama, however, is not one of those states: Alabama requires that a will prepared in the state be witnessed by two people who are over the age of majority and of sound mind before being accepted by the court for probate.

Washington State Laws on Wills

Washington governs how a person -- called a testator -- may establish a will by the statutory requirements defined under the Washington Probate Code, found under Title 11 of the Revised Code of Washington. These laws define how a testator must convey, proof and execute his will for the state to acknowledge the document as valid. A testator who fails to execute his will according to these guidelines could subject his estate to state intestate succession laws.

Verifying Authenticity of a Last Will & Testament

The maker of a will, commonly known as the "testator," must draft the will in accordance with the state's probate code for it to be held as valid. Generally, these formalities exist so that a probate court can verify the authenticity of the will. When a will is admitted to probate court, the court examines the will to make sure it was made in compliance with state law.

LegalZoom. Legal help is here. Start Here. Wills. Trusts. Attorney help. Wills & Trusts

Related articles

How to Prove a Will Is Genuine

A last will and testament is the final word of a deceased individual in which he directs the disposition of his assets. ...

Rules for Wills in Florida

The state of Florida governs how a testator may establish and execute a will under the Florida Probate Code. These ...

The Format for a Legal Will

While probate laws defining the format for a valid will vary from state to state, most states acknowledge at least two ...

California Laws Regarding Wills

California law requires that a testator, or the person making a will, be at least 18 years of age and of sound mind. ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED