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Writing a Last Will and Testament in California

Creating and registering your will allows your loved ones to locate it after your death. It will also be crucial in helping distribute your assets after your death. In California, a last will and testament enable the person writing it to bequeath assets to loved ones or charitable organizations.

There is also a living will that stipulates what should happen to your assets should you become incapacitated. When needed, a living will take effect when you are still alive. On the other hand, it is only possible to implement the last will after your death.

This article discusses the requirements of registering a last will and testament in California.

Why Should You Create and Register a Last Will in California?

Creating and registering your last will and testament can benefit you in different ways. You will have peace of mind knowing that your assets will be distributed per your wishes after you pass away. Additionally, you can stipulate your estate’s executor in your last will. This is the person that will carry out your will’s bequests. Thus, the most significant purpose of drafting a last will is to express the persons that will inherit your property after your death.

Creating your last will and testament also ensures that after your death, there is no need for probate to determine who should have your assets. The probate process can be lengthy, and the court’s final decision regarding your will’s executor may not fulfill what you intended.

Even so, California has a unique streamlined process for your last will’s execution. This process ensures that your assets pass to surviving spouses and registered domestic partners without going through an entire probate proceeding. All your spouse or registered domestic partner must do is file a Spousal or Domestic Partner Property Petition. Doing so will help them avoid a more complex probate process.

Which is Your Best Option Between a Living Trust and a Will?

Most California residents prefer creating a revocable living trust over a will. Essentially, wills and trusts are similar in certain aspects — they enable you to decide the person to whom to bequeath your assets after you die. But they achieve this objective differently. Note that a trust can have more benefits than a will in California.

Your last will and testament stipulate who should receive your assets after your death. On the other hand, a trust refers to a legal arrangement that allows you to transfer your property to the trust. A trustee will help you manage the property per the trust’s stipulations. Thus, the trust is the actual “owner” of your assets. Properly transferring assets to a trust helps avoid the probate process altogether.

When choosing between a last will and a trust, it all depends on your situation. But it can be more beneficial to set up a trust if you live in California. This is because it helps avoid the lengthy and costly probate process.

You can quickly learn online the requirements of setting up a trust in California. 

Senior man drafting his last will and testament at his California home with no distractions.

California’s Last Will and Testament Requirements

Here are the requirements to make a valid will in California:

  • Must be 18 years or older
  • You should be of sound mind. This requires you to comprehend the importance of writing and registering a will. You also need to understand your assets and how they relate. Finally, it means that you should not be mentally incapacitated and make decisions you wouldn’t have otherwise made.
  • You must create your will without coercion. You should make your will freely and without any improper “undue influence” from someone who has power over you. It could be a caretaker or a family member.
  • Your will must be in writing. This means you should have a physical will. When your will is “in writing,” you could have written it by hand or typed and printed it. Note that California’s law does not recognize digital copy such as a PDF of your will as valid. The same also applies to an oral will.
  • At least two competent disinterested parties should witness your will’s signing. A “disinterested” witness is a person that does not stand to gain financially from your will.

Can You Change a Last Will in California?

It is possible to change a California last will and testament. California’s State Bar emphasizes the need to review your will periodically. This will help you address any issues that may have arisen since you first drafted the will.

Codicil refers to the will-changing process in California. It requires an amendment that adheres to similar procedures as the original will. Simply omitting or adding words or sentences will not amount to a valid codicil in California.

Can You Revoke a Last Will in California?

There are several ways to revoke a California last will and testament. The first way is through express revocation of all or part of the initial version of the will. You can also revoke a last will in California by burning, tearing, canceling, obliterating, or destroying the will. This can be either by:

  • The testator
  • Another party, as directed by the testator in their presence

Finally, you can revoke your will by creating a new one. In California, creating a new one will automatically render all previous ones obsolete. In such a case, you should expressly state that your new will revokes your initial will. To avoid confusion, you will also need to eliminate all previous wills and codicils.

If you are in a marriage or a domestic partnership, you will automatically revoke any items you gifted your partner in case of a divorce. You can only reverse this by explicitly stating in your will what should happen in case of a divorce or separation. If you accorded your spouse or domestic partner the power to be your executor, there will be automatic revocation of such authority should you separate.

Register Your Will Today!

Writing a last will is crucial, no matter how few assets you own. Doing so will shield your loved ones from the tension arising from not knowing the intended recipients of your assets after your death. While writing a will is crucial, one that your loved ones can’t locate has no value. This is why you must register your will with the U.S. Will Registry today! The best part is that the process is simple and free!

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