California Wills Lawyer
Your Last Will and Testament is the linchpin of your estate plan. It says who inherits what, and it can be critical to providing for a minor child or adult with disabilities. The will is a key document, but it’s not the only piece of estate planning. Call me to create, amend or revoke a will or look at your overall estate plan. If a loved one has died, call me immediately to start the probate process and make sure the decedent’s home or other property is protected. I have been probating wills for 30 years in Southern California, including but not limited to Anaheim, Buena Park, Cerritos, Compton, Downey, Fullerton, Gardena, La Mirada and Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego. I can help ensure a will is valid and effective, or I can challenge a will that was made under undue influence or other unacceptable circumstances. Call NOW for your FREE consultation.
What Do I Put in My Will?
You can distribute your entire estate through your will, although you can also do so through trusts instead. By using trusts, you avoid having to go through probate to transfer those pieces of property. Your will can be used in conjunction with your trust, with the will transferring property into the trust. Your will can include what is called a “pour-over” provision, where property that was left out of your trust is “poured over” into the trust, escaping probate.
You can use a will to make specific gifts of personal property, such as jewelry or items of sentimental value, to specific individuals. You can send messages to your loved ones and establish your legacy. You can also put restrictions on the gifts you make. For instance, if you want the recipient to complete college or reach a certain age before inheriting, you can put that requirement in your will.
You can also use the will to name the executor for your estate, which is the person who will be responsible for collecting your property, paying taxes or settling claims against the estate, and distributing property according to the will. You can also name a guardian for your minor children in the will, so they won’t be left uncared for or have to go court for a guardianship.
How Do You Make a Valid Will in California?
To make a will in California, you have to be 18 years old and of sound mind. Being of sound mind basically means that you understand you are making a will that will distribute your estate after you are gone. The will should be in writing (typed up) and signed by you in the presence of two witnesses, who also sign the will. The witnesses should not be people who inherit under the will; they should be “disinterested” parties. Finally, the will must dispose of property appropriately. For instance, under California law, you can only dispose of your one-half of the community property, plus your separate property. If you try to give away all of the community property (which is owned jointly by you and your spouse), the gifts won’t be valid.
If you can’t physically sign the will, you can direct someone else to do sign it on your behalf. If the will is already signed, the witnesses can attest to your acknowledgment that the signature is yours or that of someone whom you directed to sign.
You can also make a will that is entirely handwritten. This type of will is called a (WARNING: LEGALESE AHEAD) holographic will. To be effective, all of the material (most important) provisions must be handwritten, and the will should be dated and signed. This will doesn’t need witnesses, but it must be legible and clear as to who gets what. Even an unsigned or undated holographic will could be valid, but it could be harder to prove if challenged. You probably wouldn’t make a holographic will unless it were an emergency, and you didn’t have the time to make a more formal will.
What if I Don’t Make a Will?
If you don’t make a will, or if your will gets declared invalid by the probate court, then your estate will get distributed according to the California laws of intestate succession (a person who dies without a will is said to have died “intestate”). These laws set out who gets your property and in what order, such as a spouse, children, parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and spouse’s relatives. If there aren’t any qualifying relatives to receive your property, it will go to the State of California. When you make a will, you can give your property to the relatives of your choosing, or other people or places such as friends, charities, your college, house of worship, etc.
How Do Wills Fail Probate?
Probate is the process of proving the will is valid. If it doesn’t meet the requirements discussed above for a valid will, the court will not accept it, and it won’t be given effect. Also, heirs or potential heirs could challenge the will for a number of reasons. These challenges are called “will contests” and are subject to probate litigation, requiring a hearing in court to decide whether the will is valid. Grounds for will contests include undue influence, lack of capacity, fraud, multiple wills, or an omitted heir. See my page on probate litigation for more information. I take on a limited number of probate litigation matters on a contingency basis without any upfront fees.
Call The Probate Guy for a Free Wills Consultation and No Upfront Fees
For help with wills, from planning and drafting to probating or challenging, call me at 714-522-8880 for a free consultation. I help people throughout Southern California, including but not limited to Anaheim, Buena Park, Cerritos, Compton, Downey, Fullerton, Gardena, La Mirada and Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego. For probate help with no upfront fees, call The Probate Guy today. Call NOW for your FREE consultation.