How To Write a Will in California

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Steps To Create a Will in California

Preparing and deciding how to best handle your assets beyond your lifetime is not easy, and you may have lots of questions. However, creating a will in California can be easy if you follow these step-by-step instructions:

  • Decide which assets to include in your will
  • Decide who will inherit your assets
  • Choose a guardian for your children
  • Choose an executor
  • Make your will
  • Sign your will in front of witnesses
  • Store your will in a safe place

Decide Which Assets To Include in Your Will

The first thing to do is consider items you own that have value, these are your assets. You’ll want to make a list of the ones you know you want to include in your will. Some assets to consider for example are:

  • Property (residential and commercial)
  • Life insurance policies
  • Bank and retirement accounts
  • Cars
  • Pets
  • Hobby assets (i.e. stamps, rare books collection, etc.)

Don’t forget to include things that you know are not financially valuable but have sentimental meaning.

Once you have your list put together, fill in specific details such as: property address(es), purchase dates, account numbers, contact details, pet names, etc. Jot down any information you believe will assist your executor (the person who manages your will when you’re gone) to carry out your wishes.

Decide Who Will Inherit Your Assets

Next, you’ll want to select your beneficiaries – the individuals who will get your assets. California is a community-property state, which means that all assets you and your spouse acquired during your marriage belong to both of you equally. So, if your spouse survives you, they’re entitled to 100% of the community property. Thus, If your spouse is still living and you want everything to go to them – done!

For separate property (assets you bought before you were married), California state law requires you divide those up between your surviving relatives if you don’t have a will. However, if you’re planning on creating a will, you’ll want to think about how you would divide up your assets. For example, you could leave an equal percentage or a specific dollar amount to each of your children (or you could leave everything to charity, it’s totally up to you).

Some important things to note:

  • If you own a home with your spouse or someone else, the property automatically goes to the person named in the real estate deed – a will does not overrule who gets the property.
  • Life insurance policies and retirement accounts – your California will does not override the person who’s named as a beneficiary on a life insurance policy or on a retirement account.

Choose a Guardian for Your Children

Guardians are the people who would have legal custody of your kids and your kid’s property if you’re gone.This is another smart reason to create a will. The last thing you want is for the courts to make decisions about your kids on your behalf. Don’t allow a stranger to decide what’s best for your kids. Instead, name their guardian(s) in your will. Obviously, guardians should be those you trust, so you should talk to the people you’re considering as guardians first to make sure they agree with your decision. You should also consider an alternate guardian in case your first choice doesn’t work out.

Whatever you decide, be sure you include in your will access and authority to the guardian(s) to work with any insurance or savings accounts you’ve set up for your kids, and write down all the details your kids’ guardian(s) will need.

Choose an Executor

An executor is the person who makes sure all the wishes within your will are met. They also use the funds in your estate to pay any debts you have left behind.

An executor is the person who makes sure all the wishes within your will are met. They also use the funds in your estate to pay any debts you have left behind.

Make Your Will

Now that you’ve gathered all your information, you are ready to either write your will yourself, hire an Orange County will lawyer at Evolution Tax & Legal or search the internet for a DIY estate plan website (we recommend a professional to make sure they advise you on any tax-saving benefits depending upon your personal situation).

Nonetheless, given you now have all the information about your assets, beneficiaries and guardians, you’ll have all the information you need right at your fingertips to have everything be quick and easy!

Sign Your Will in Front of Witnesses

Once you’ve created your will, the last step is for you to sign it in front of two witnesses.

These witnesses need to be disinterested individuals and present at the same time you sign and they need to sign the will right after you do. This means there should really be no exchange of any kind for their signature.

Additionally, you should consider getting your will notarized. Notarization isn’t required in California – but It can speed up your probate process and overall, it’s a good idea.

Store Your Will Safely

Now, it’s completely up to you where you store your will, but make sure you tell at least one other person where it is. However, note that a safe deposit box that no one else has access to, might require your loved ones to request access to your safe deposit box by court order after your passing – possibly delaying the probate process.

Requirements for Writing a Will in California

The requirements to make a valid will in California include:

  • You must be at least 18 years old.
  • You must be of sound mind and memory (understand what it means to make a will and the nature and extent of your property and relationships)
  • Don’t suffer from a mental health disorder that causes you to hallucinate, or make decisions in your will that you wouldn’t have otherwise made
  • You can’t be under improper pressure to write your will by someone who has power over you, like a caretaker or family member. This is known as “undue influence.”
  • Your will must be in writing, either written by hand, or one you’ve typed on a computer and must be in physical form, meaning it is printed. A digital copy, like a PDF of your will saved on your computer, isn’t considered valid under California law and neither is an oral will.
  • You must sign your will in the presence of at least two competent, disinterested witnesses, who also sign at the same time. A disinterested witness is someone who doesn’t receive any financial benefit under your will – they are not beneficiaries of your will.

Why Should You Make a Will in California?

A will can help protect your family and your property and moreover disallow the state from making important decisions on your behalf after you’ve passed. In summary, a will has uses such as:

  • Leave your property to people (or organizations)
  • Name a trusted person to manage property left to minor children
  • Name a personal guardian to care for your minor children, and
  • Name an executor, the person entrusted with carrying out the terms of your will

What Happens if You Don’t Have a Will?

If you die without a will, California law will dictate how your property will be distributed. California’s intestacy law gives your property to your closest relatives, beginning with your spouse and children. In the absence of a spouse or children, your grandchildren or your parents will get your property. Thereafter, distant relatives, including siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and your spouse’s relatives. If the court cannot determine any living relatives of yours by blood or marriage, the state will take your property.

Do You Need a Lawyer To Make a Will?

No. In fact, if you follow these step-by-step instructions, you can create your own will in your own writing or with a little help from a DIY website. However, we recommend you consult an attorney in some situations where you have many assets, or if you suspect your will might be contested or if you want to disinherit your spouse or want to look into tax saving benefits for your beneficiaries.

Make Your California Will With Evolution Tax and Legal

If you’ve already gathered the important details we discussed, we recommend taking the next step and contact Evolution Tax & Legal for a free 15-minute consultation with an estate planning attorney that can answer any questions you might have about your specific situation.