California Will Form
Who will manage your money and property after you die? Who will make sure your property is distributed as you wish? Who will care for your children? These are difficult questions to ask, but you can answer them by creating a will.
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Do I Really Need a Will in California?
There is no legal requirement for you to have a will in California. If you want to control who receives your assets and who cares for your children, you should have a will.
If you do not have a will when you die, a California court will turn to California’s intestacy laws to figure out who will receive your assets. The California intestate laws include a list of relatives who can inherit from you. Your spouse and children are at the top of the list. If you are unmarried with no children, the court will move down the list until it finds a relative to inherit from you. In the unlikely event you do not have at least a distant relative who can inherit from you, the state of California will take your estate.
A will makes it less likely that the state or an estranged relative will inherit from you because you can name the people or charities who will receive your assets.
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How To Get a Will in California
You can hire a California estate planning attorney or use a will form from a reputable source to make a will. When you make your will, follow these steps: See full process
List all your property, money, and assets
Think of everything you own, including money in bank accounts, real estate, cars, boats, furniture, retirement accounts, and life insurance, and figure out which assets you will devise through your will. Some of these items, such as life insurance and retirement accounts with named beneficiaries and property placed in a trust, will not go through probate.
In California, you can create a list separate from your will to devise personal property. To give personal property this way, your will must mention a writing that directs how to give tangible personal property that is not otherwise mentioned in the will. The writing must be dated, and it either must be in your handwriting or signed by you.
You can create the list of personal property before or after you create your will, so you can update it from time to time. The list must describe the items and the beneficiaries with reasonable certainty. The total value of the list’s property cannot exceed $25,000, and no item can be worth more than $5,000. Items worth more than those amounts must be mentioned in your will.
Decide who will receive your money and property
After you choose which assets will pass through your will or list of tangible personal property, decide who will receive these assets. You can give your assets to friends, families, schools, or charities. You should consider making specific devises of any sentimental items you own to keep your loved ones from arguing about them.
Before you list a school or charity in your will, contact their planned giving department to find out what kind of gifts they will accept and how you should name them in your will.
Choose an executor
The executor of your estate will manage your assets, make sure your debts are paid, and distribute your assets in accordance with your will. It is an important job with a lot of responsibility, so you should choose someone you trust to be executor. You also should talk to your executor and make sure they are willing to serve.
Your executor will have many responsibilities, including:
- Identifying and safeguarding your estate’s assets
- Notifying your beneficiaries and heirs about the probate process
- Notifying your creditors
- Paying your estate’s expenses and taxes
- Hiring attorneys, accountants, and other professionals to help them manage your estate
Finally, you should name one or two successor executors to serve in case your first choice dies before you or is unable or unwilling to serve.
Choose someone to care for your children
If you have minor children, your will can designate a guardian and custodian for your children. A guardian will raise your children and make all decisions about their care. Your guardian should be willing and physically able to care for your children, and it can be helpful for your children if they have a good relationship with the guardian.
A custodian manages assets that your children receive through your will, but you should consider creating a revocable living trust and naming a trustee to manage your children’s assets. A trust gives you more control over the distribution of your assets than a will. Because they will be managing your children’s assets, a custodian or trustee should be responsible with money and trustworthy.
Sign your will form with witnesses
If you want a valid will, you must comply with the California Probate Code’s signature requirements. You should sign the will with two adults present who must also sign your will as witnesses. If you are physically unable to sign, you can direct a third person in your presence to sign your will on your behalf. Your witnesses do not need to read your will or know its contents, but you should tell them that the document is your will. Unlike many states, California does not require a notary public to sign a will.
Your witnesses should not be beneficiaries of your will. If they are beneficiaries, every devise to them is presumed to be procured by duress, menace, fraud, or undue influence. Your beneficiary witness will have to overcome this presumption in court to receive a devise through your will. If they fail to overcome the presumption, then the devise will be invalid.
Store your will in a safe place
Make sure your will is stored in a safe place and that your executor knows where it is. You also can tell other trusted family members or friends where your will is. Avoid using a safe deposit box. Bank rules can make it difficult for your executor or family members to access your safe deposit box after you die. If you hire an attorney, you can ask if their firm stores original wills for clients. You also can use a safe place in your home.
Review your will in a few years
Review your will every three-to-five years to see if it still contains your wishes and meets your loved ones’ needs. You also should review your will if you marry, divorce, have children, or your financial status changes. If your family or financial situations change, you can ask a California estate planning attorney to review your will to see if it needs changes.
You May Want To Speak With a Lawyer if You:
- Have a past divorce, blended family, or other complex family situation
- Have a high-value estate
- Own a business
- Want to create a special needs trust
- Want legal review of your completed will
Ready to get started on your California will? It’s free to start.Create My Will
California Will FAQ
A will, also called a last will and testament or a last will, is an important legal document used in estate planning. You can use a will to give money and property to your loved ones or charities after you die. If you have minor children, you should name a guardian for them in your will.
The person who makes a will is called the testator, and the people who receive money through a will are called the devisees or beneficiaries. You will name an executor in your will. An executor manages your assets, distributes your property, and communicates with the court during probate.
Probate is the legal procedure for distributing a person’s money and property after they die. A court supervises the process and will follow your will’s instructions unless they are illegal or impossible. A will does not keep assets out of probate. If you want to keep assets out of probate, you should consider using other estate planning tools like a living trust.
California does not require you to hire a lawyer to make a will. If you are comfortable filling out a form and do not have a large net worth, you should be fine using an easy-to-complete will form. Before you execute your form, you can ask an attorney to review it if you have questions.
FindLaw is not a law firm, and the forms are not a substitute for the advice or services of an attorney. If you have children with multiple partners, have a child with special needs, own significant assets, or are uncomfortable using a form, you should ask a California estate planning attorney for legal advice. An attorney can draft a will for you and discuss other estate planning documents, such as trusts.
Attorneys charge a wide variety of fees for wills in California. The cost of a will depends on the city you live in, the attorney’s experience, and how complicated your estate is.
Many attorneys charge a flat fee for a simple will, but others will charge an hourly rate. You probably will pay at least a few hundred dollars for a will if you hire an attorney. If you go that route, you should contact a few attorneys to find out their rates and what kind of estate planning services they offer.
The California Probate Code includes a free statutory will form. The statutory will form does not give users much flexibility for devising property to beneficiaries, but it is fine for people who have limited assets and only want to devise assets to one or two beneficiaries.
You should avoid free will forms from other sources. Many free forms are not tailored to state law or are not updated when laws change. If you use a will form, purchase one from a reputable source that updates its forms when California law changes.
In California, you can change your will by creating an amendment to a will, which is called a codicil. You must execute a codicil with two witnesses. In most cases, you only should use a codicil if you are making a minor change to a will.
If you burn, tear, cancel, obliterate, or destroy your will with the intent to revoke it, then it will be revoked. However, if people have copies of your will or know your will’s contents, you should revoke it in writing. You can revoke a will by creating a new will that is inconsistent with a previous will or states it revokes previous wills. If you create a new will, it should state that it revokes previous wills and codicils to avoid any confusion about your intent.
California is one of many states that allow holographic wills. A will is a holographic will if it is completely in the testator’s handwriting or the material portions are in the testator’s handwriting. Only the testator needs to sign a holographic will. No witnesses are needed.
You only should use a holographic will if you are facing immediate death and do not have access to witnesses. Holographic wills are more likely to be rejected by a court if it is not clear you intended to make a will. Plan ahead and create a will with witnesses.
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