What Makes a Will Legal in California?

By A.L. Kennedy

California state laws contain specific rules for what makes a will legal in the state. California's will laws are laid out in the California Probate Code. Like most states, California requires a will to be signed by the testator, or person who made the will, as well as by two witnesses.

Eligibility

The California Probate Code states that anyone can make a legal will in California if they are at least 18 years old and "of sound mind," which means being able to understand that they are making a will and that the will leaves their property to certain people or charities when they die.

Property

California is a community property state, which means that spouses each have an equal share of ownership in any property acquired during their marriage. A legal will in California may give away any property that belongs solely to the person making the will. It may not, however, give away any property that belongs to both spouses equally. If the will includes a provision trying to give away community property, the probate court will ignore that provision.

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Signatures and Witnesses

A will must be signed by the testator; if the testator cannot sign, she may designate someone to sign for her while she witnesses the signature, according to the California Probate Code. The testator's signature must also be witnessed by two witnesses who are at least 18 years old and of sound mind. The witnesses also sign the will and indicate that they witnessed the testator signing it and knew it was the testator's will. A will does not have to be notarized to be legal in California.

Will Revocation

Once a California will is signed and witnessed, it can be revoked in one of three ways. First, the testator can revoke the will by making a new will that states it revokes all previous wills. Second, the testator or someone acting on the testator's orders can completely destroy the will, such as by burning or shredding. Finally, if a testator is married when he makes the will but then becomes divorced, any part of the will leaving property to his former spouse is considered revoked unless the will specifies that that part should stand despite the divorce, according to the California Probate Code.

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Is a Notarized Will Legal in Massachusetts?
 

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Are Notarized Wills Legal?

In all 50 U.S. states, at least two witnesses are required to make a will valid, according to MedLawPlus. However, only Louisiana requires a will to be notarized in addition to being signed by two witnesses. Although a notary may sign a will as a witness in most other states, the fact of notarization is not enough to make a will valid, according to FindLaw.

Common Law Divorces in California

There is no such thing as common law divorce, so California law does not consider you divorced if you are legally married but attempt to divorce by simply separating and saying you are divorced. In fact, California recognizes neither common law marriage, in which a couple becomes married by living together and saying they are married but never formally marrying, nor common law divorce, in which a couple might simply split up without obtaining a divorce through the legal system.

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Wisconsin law sets out certain requirements that a will must meet before a Wisconsin probate court will accept it. A do-it-yourself will is legal in Wisconsin as long as it meets the requirements listed in Wisconsin law. The Wisconsin State Bar recommends talking to an attorney before preparing your own Wisconsin will.

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