A Last Will and Testament is one of the most important legal documents anyone can create during their lifetime. In California, if a person dies without a Will, that person is said to have died “intestate.” By dying intestate, a person is submitting to California estate planning laws in order to determine how and to whom the person’s personal assets will be dispersed.
By dying without a Will, a person’s beneficiaries are unable to dispute the state’s distribution laws. Once the court applies the state laws to the person’s estate, his or her beneficiaries are stuck with the ruling. Dying without a Will may cause a person to unintentionally disinherit a loved one even if, while alive, the person expressed a desire to take care of that loved one in the future. If it is not formalized in a written Will, verbal expressions are essentially meaningless in the eyes of the law.
In California a person must be eighteen (18) years of age and of sound mind in order to legally make a Will. Generally, “sound mind” means the person understands:
(a) the act of making a Will;
(b) the general extent of their property;
(c) their relationship with their family; and
(d) to whom they are giving property to via the Will.
California state law submits that in order for a Will to be considered valid, it must conform to the following requirements:
1.Be in writing (or typed),
2.Be signed by the Testator (or the person making the Will),
3.Be signed by two Witnesses
State law also requires that the Witnesses must:
1.Either see the Testator sign the Will or be told by the Testator himself that the signature on the Will is his or hers,
2.Must understand that the document is the Testator’s Will, and
3.Must sign the Will in the Testator’s presence and in the presence of the other witness
Further, in order to be a valid witness to a Will, the Witness must be considered generally competent. To be considered “competent” under California state law a Witness must be “disinterested,” or not a beneficiary of the Will.
Generally, a Will that meets the legal requirements and is considered valid in California, will be upheld and deemed valid in another state. Most states require that the document be in writing, signed by the Testator and signed by two disinterested witnesses who witnessed the Testator and the other witness signing the document.