How to Execute a Last Will and Testament

Your last will and testament is an important part of your estate plan, which represents your legacy and is a symbol of your continued commitment to your loved ones. Estate plans are not just for the wealthy and their tony estates. Estate, in this context, simply means the assets you’ve amassed, and estate planning refers to the plans you put in place regarding your final wishes.

While estate planning may strike you as daunting, a well-respected company that offers solid online self-help solutions for common estate planning needs, such as California wills, can help you get the job done at a fraction of the price that you would pay an estate planning attorney.


California’s Laws of Intestacy

If you die without a valid will in place in the State of California, your assets will be distributed according to the state’s laws of intestacy – even if this distribution is not in keeping with your wishes and even if you shared your wishes with a loved one. In order for your wishes to be upheld, you must have a valid will in place that spells them out for the court – or they must be addressed via another estate planning tool, such as a trust. Without a will, your loved ones are stripped of the right to contest the court’s distribution of your estate, which highlights the importance of having a valid will.


The Basic Requirements in California

In order for your will to be valid in California, it must be executed according to state requirements. It is important to note, however, that a will that was validly executed in another state will generally be accepted in California. To execute a will in the State of California, the following requirements apply:

  1. The testator, or the person whose will it is, must be at least 18 years old and of sound mind. Being of sound mind means that the person in question hasn’t been found incompetent in relation to a prior legal matter.
  2. The will must be in writing and must be signed by the testator and two witnesses.
  3. Each of the witnesses must either see the testator sign the will or must be informed by the testator that the signature is his or hers.
  4. Each witness must sign the will in the presence of the testator and the other witness.


Disinterested Witnesses

It’s generally preferable that both witnesses to the will be disinterested parties, which means they are not beneficiaries of the will itself. When a witness is a beneficiary of a will, there is a presumption that the amount gifted to the witness was procured through the undue influence of some kind. If the witness is unable to rebut this presumption, any amount above the amount the witness would have received if the testator had died without a will must be forfeited.


Self-Proved Wills

When the authenticity of a will goes unchallenged in California and the will is what is known as self-proven, the probate process is streamlined. In order for a will to be self-proven, one of the witnesses must affirm its authenticity in an affidavit that is notarized and attached. When a will is self-proven, there is no need for witnesses of the will to testify in court because the document is automatically accepted as authentic. When no witnesses of the will remain in the California county in question, a witness deposition can be used to prove the will’s authenticity.


Holographic Wills

California – along with about half the other states – accepts what are called holographic wills, but each state implements its own legal requirements. A holographic will is one that is handwritten and signed by the testator, and in California, such wills do not require witnesses. Wills that are not holographic are referred to as statutory wills.


The Harmless Error Doctrine

In the past, even a minor error in the creation of a will could invalidate it, but in 2008, California implemented a harmless error provision. This means when clear and convincing evidence shows that an error – such as witnesses who do not comply with the required formalities of will creation in California – does not interfere with the testator’s intentions, the will should be treated as if the necessary formalities were complied with in the first place.


Wills Are Important and Complex

Wills are generally recommended for adults to whom any of the following apply:

  1. They have someone else who depends upon them.
  2. They have wishes they would like upheld upon their passing.
  3. They are interested in preserving a personal legacy.

In other words, wills are important estate planning tools that, because they are legal documents, are also complex. This does not, however, mean that – with the proper online guidance – you can’t execute your own legally binding will that succinctly represents your wishes and provides you with the peace of mind you’re looking for.


TrustHandled Can Guide You through the Process of Executing Your Last Will and Testament

While executing a last will and testament can play an important role in your ability to continue caring for your loved ones when you’re gone, you don’t need a costly estate planning attorney to effectively and efficiently address the matter. TrustHandled recognizes that estate planning is important for everyone – not just those who are in a position to spend a considerable amount of money on professional legal guidance – and in response, we offer cost-effective estate planning solutions online.

Our process is streamlined and easy to follow, but it also takes the unique considerations that are most important to you into account. We will guide you through a focused questionnaire that – through your responses – leads you toward a will that works for you. Additionally, you can store all your estate planning documents, including your will, in our secure online space, where it remains safe from destruction and loss. We’ll not only keep your will safe but will also ensure that it’s easily accessible when the time comes for it to be implemented or amended. Your will matters, and we’re here to help.