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California Wills Laws

Laws governing the drafting, signing, and enforcement of wills are fairly similar among U.S. states. As in many other states, California's wills laws require the testator (the person writing the will) to be at least 18 years old and of sound mind. But unlike some other state laws, California does not recognize oral (or "nuncupative") wills. Holographic wills, which are handwritten, are regognized by the state but have special requirements.

California will law is relatively straightforward. If written and signed by an individual who is of legal age (18) and of sound mind is qualified to write a valid will. For legal purposes, anyone who fits at least one of the following descriptions is not considered to be of sound mind (and is therefore not eligible to make a valid will):

  1. The individual does not have sufficient mental capacity to be able to (A) understand the nature of the testamentary act, (B) understand and recollect the nature and situation of the individual's
    property, or (C) remember and understand the individual's relations to living descendants, spouse, and parents, and those whose interests are affected by the will; or
  2. The individual suffers from a mental disorder with symptoms including delusions or hallucinations, which delusions or hallucinations result in the individual's devising property in a way which, except for the existence of the delusions or hallucinations, the individual would not have done.

If you die without a will, your case will "go to probate," which means your estate will be handled according to the laws of your state instead of according to your wishes. Generally, an estate that is decided in probate will be divided equally among your heirs, which may include distant relatives. If no heirs are found, the estate goes to the state.

Highlights of California's wills laws are listed in the table below. See FindLaw's Making a Will and Revoking, Challenging, or Changing a Will sections to learn more. Then, learn how to create a last will and testament in California.

Code Section Prob. §§6100, et seq.
Age of Testator 18 years or older and of sound mind
Number of Witnesses At least 2 persons present at the same time, witnessing either signing of will or testator's acknowledgment and must understand that it is testator's will.
Nuncupative (Oral Wills) Not recognized
Holographic Wills Valid if signature and material provisions are in handwriting of testator; does not need witnesses; must show testamentary intent which can be shown by extrinsic evidence.

Note: State laws are constantly changing -- contact a California estate planning attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

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