Requirements for a Valid Will in California Estate Planning

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29th May 2012

Requirements for a valid will vary from state to state. In California, the minimum age for a person to be able to legally prepare a will is 18 years old. More than that, the person must be of sound mind.   This means that the person preparing the will is not mentally incapacitated.  Thus, he or she fully understands the document he is drafting and will eventually sign.
California estate planning laws stipulate that a testator can prepare a will in three ways. First, a will can be done in one’s own handwriting. This is known as a holographic will. This is legally acceptable in California as long as all of the material provisions of the will are handwritten by the testator. The will must be dated and signed by the testator. It is not necessary for a handwritten will to be notarized or witnessed.  However, it would still be good to have two witnesses sign the will.
For those who want a more formal will than a handwritten will, they have another option. California estate planning statutes provide wills forms – which can be easily accomplished by anyone. This type of will is especially recommended for people who only own a modest estate. It gives the testator the flexibility to bequeath the estate to his or her children or spouse, or others, or to a charity of his or her choice. There are also provisions in the form will for the naming of a guardian or an executor.  You can easily obtain these forms from the California State Bar.
The third option in preparing a will is to obtain the assistance of a qualified estate planning lawyer.  The lawyer will not only draft the will, but also gives advice to the testator on how he or she can best leave the estate to the heirs and, minimize the estate tax bite.  This type of will requires the signature of at least two witnesses, who are not beneficiaries of the will.
All wills, however they were prepared, must be signed by the testator.  Testators who are illiterate or are physically incapacitated may ask another person to sign for him.  The signing of the will must be done in the presence of witnesses, and the witnesses must sign in the presence of each other, and the testator. 
Although you can prepare your own will, it is highly recommended that you seek the help of a qualified estate planning attorney.  This is particularly true when the estate is large and/or complex.   The goal of your estate planning will be to make sure that the heirs will receive everything exactly as you wish and that the tax associated is the lowest possible.  Having a will professionally prepared and executed can save everyone in the family a lot of headaches and hassle, as well as helping you feel more secure with your assets and what happens with them should something unexpected occur.

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