Legal Will Requirements in California

By Teo Spengler

A will is a document describing who will inherit your assets when you die. The simplicity of the concept stands in stark contrast to the sometimes complex -- but precise -- procedural requirements to make the will valid and enforceable. The legal hoops vary in number and complexity from state to state. California provides a wide a range of options for will drafters.

A will is a document describing who will inherit your assets when you die. The simplicity of the concept stands in stark contrast to the sometimes complex -- but precise -- procedural requirements to make the will valid and enforceable. The legal hoops vary in number and complexity from state to state. California provides a wide a range of options for will drafters.

Handwritten Wills

You may write your will in the privacy of your own home using pen and paper if you are a California resident 18 years or older and of sound mind. Such wills, termed holographic wills, are valid if entirely handwritten, including signature and date. You will not need a witness or notary, nor is formal legal language required.

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Form Wills

Another popular, simple option is California's statutory will, a form will set out in the penal code. Any of-age resident can make a statutory will by obtaining a copy of the form, then filling in the blanks to identify herself, her assets and her desired heirs. The maker must sign the will before two witnesses, but need not notarize signatures.

Printed Wills

You must follow the same statutory procedures whether you type a will for yourself or ask a lawyer to do so. You must meet identical residence, age and sound-mind requirements as apply to other California wills, and also sign the printed will before two witnesses. If you use an attorney, he can give you legal and tax-planning advice, particularly useful for larger estates.

International Will

According to the California Uniform International Wills Act, state residents owning assets in other states and countries can draft a last testament that will be readily accepted in all jurisdictions. The will itself may be handwritten or prepared in any language, but the verification must follow detailed statutory procedures. An international will requires two witnesses as well as a signed attestation by "a person authorized to act in connection with international wills." This category includes members of the diplomatic service and California attorneys. The authorized person certifies the will signing using a form similar to a notary's.

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