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.

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.

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.

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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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Does a Last Will & Testament Need to Be Notarized in California?

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Does a Power of Attorney Require Notarization?

Notarizing a legal document, such as a power of attorney, involves using the services of a notary public to authenticate the identity of the person signing the document and to witness the document being signed. The purpose of notarizing a legal document is to deter fraud and assure others the signature on the document is genuine. Each state has its own laws regarding a power of attorney; whether a power of attorney must be notarized depends on the state where the power of attorney is signed and the purpose of the power of attorney.

Procedure for Writing a Will

A last will and testament is a statement of a person's intentions for her property after death. A valid will passes assets to the persons the testator -- the person writing the will -- selects, rather than to blood kin she may not even know. It also enables a testator to name a guardian for her minor children. While many people use lawyers to prepare wills, this is not the only possible procedure.

How to Make a Will with Beneficiaries

A will is a legal document and special vocabulary applies to virtually every step of the drafting process. The document itself is often termed "last will and testament;" the person drafting the will is known as the testator. In a will, the testator makes "devises" or "bequests" her property to selected persons or entities, termed "heirs" or "beneficiaries." Since a central purpose of a will is to name heirs, the process of "making a will with beneficiaries" is neither more nor less than that of making a will.

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