Wills are important documents that help to spell out your final wishes. A will does two specific things: (1) advises your loved ones and the executor exactly what to do with your assets, and (2) ensures your family is taken care of after you have passed.
A will is a crucial part of your estate planning and with an experienced California estate planning attorney at your side, you can confidently plan for your and your family's future.
What is a Will?
A will is a legal document listing instructions on how your property is to be distributed after your death. It may also appoint a guardian for any minor children. Individuals who are distributed assets under a will are known as devisees or beneficiaries.
After a person's death, the will is administered through the probate process. Probate is a court process that administers your estate to ensure that debts are taken care of, assets are distributed, and all other "loose ends" are tied up.
Elements of a Valid Will in California
Wills are subject to very specific requirements under California law. The requirements are set forth in California Probate Code Section 6110 et seq. Failure to meet each requirement may result in an invalid will, meaning your assets may not be distributed as indicated in the document.
A formal will must:
- Be in writing;
- Signed by or on behalf of the testator (the person making the will) in the testator's presence and at his/her direction;
- Witnessed by at least two other people, each of whom must be present (1) when the testator signs; or (2) at the time the testator acknowledges his/her signature or the will; and
- The witnesses must sign the will during the testator's lifetime and understand that the instrument they sign is the testator's will.
There are exceptions to these rules, and there are different kinds of wills. People often attempt to create their own will or mimic one from the internet. Many wills from the internet do not comply with California law. Wills from the internet, therefore, could pose problems for beneficiaries upon your death if not prepared in accordance with California law.
The best course of action is to have your will drafted by an experienced estate planning attorney who can guarantee that your will complies with California law.
Advantages of Making a Will
There are many benefits to creating a valid will in California, including:
- Making Your Wishes Known: A will takes out the guesswork for those who have to administer your estate after you pass. If you do not have a will, your assets will be divided according to the rules of the intestacy statutes, which may or may not reflect your actual wishes.
- Protecting Your Children, if any: A valid will ensures that your children are looked after and cared for appropriately.
- Estate Contest Reduction: A valid will shows the court your clear intentions. Without a will, your intentions may be challenged in court.
Will Contests and Disputes in California
In some cases, the validity of a will may be challenged by one or more people after a person has passed. Will contests may seek to:
- Invalidate a will;
- Invalidate a portion of a will;
- Seek clarification of unclear language; or
- Challenge the legality of distributions.
Often wills may be challenged when there is concern that the person who wrote the will lacked the mental capacity to make decisions for him or herself. The concern may also be that the testator was unduly influenced by another person.
An experienced estate planning attorney can help a person challenge an invalid will and defend a valid will. Your attorney can also draft your will so as to avoid the issues that create will contests and provide you the confidence your wishes will be carried out.
Consult a California Estate Planning Attorney
Creating a will is an important part of protecting your legacy and ensuring that your intentions for your beneficiaries are carried out. Attorney Lauren Rios has years of legal experience and will put that experience to work for you in drafting your will.
She represents clients throughout the Bay Area, including San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties. Contact the Law Office of Lauren Rios today either online or at (650) 727-0900.