Writing a will is a critical component of an estate plan. California estate planners must understand that merely writing down one’s wishes on paper won’t likely result in a legally valid document. California’s estate statutes determine a will’s validity, and estate planners should devise a document that meets legal standards.
A valid will in California
No matter how well-devised a last will and testament is, the document isn’t valid unless signed. Someone downloading a generic will online could fill in relevant information but fail to sign it. A probate court won’t accept a will that the testator never signed, meaning California’s intestate laws would come into effect because no legal will exists.
A signed will might be worthless if the document does not adhere to additional requirements under state law. In California, two witnesses must also sign the will, and these witnesses cannot be people with any stake or financial interest in the will.
The will must meet other statutory requirements related to age and mental competency. The testator must be 18 years or older and be of sound mind. Everything the testator writes in the will must be free of fraud or coercion.
Other points about a will
Those wishing to make changes to their original will could draft a new one and invalidate the previous version. New versions of any wills must follow statutory requirements, or the court won’t accept them. Also, whether drafting a new or original will, the language in the document must be precise. Ambiguous or contradictory language could present problems.
Writing a will requires the testator to devise a document legal under California law. Those unfamiliar with all the necessary elements may not be the right persons to write one.