How To Make Your California Last Will and Testament In Seven Simple Steps

Having a valid California last will and testament is one of the best ways you can protect your family and loved ones in the event of your passing. Making a valid California last will ensures that your money, property, and possessions will go to the people you choose. You might assume that you need an expensive California estate planning lawyer to make your will, but that's not necessarily the case. Here's our quick guide to make a valid California last will in 7 simple steps.

1. Make a list of your property.

Before you start writing your will, it's a good idea to take some time to make a list of all the property you would like to include in your last will. Consider personal property such as your home(s), car(s), furniture, jewelry, and liquidities. Additionally, write down financial assets such as stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and retirement accounts. Don't forget that certain types of property, such as life insurance proceeds and California living trusts, are non-probate assets in California. These types of properties, should not be included in the assets listed in your will because they are disposed of through a beneficiary designation on the accounts.

2. Pick your beneficiaries.

Make a list of the individuals and organizations you would like to be beneficiaries of your estate. Your recipients are the people who are going to inherit your belongings. This will lessen the chance that you accidentally omit someone important to you. Also, keep in mind in California you cannot completely disinherit your spouse and minor children.

3. Think about how you would like your property distributed.

Once you have assembled your list of property and beneficiaries, think about how you would like it distributed. In California, there are many different ways to distribute your assets to your heirs. For instance, you can make outright gifts of financial assets, real estate, specific assets, or business interests. Additionally, you can give individuals particular percentages of your estate, or you might decide to split all your assets equally among all your heirs.

4. Pick an executor.

You must pick an executor and name them in your last will, or otherwise, you run the risk that the probate court might appoint an executor for you. Your executor sometimes referred to as your personal representative, is the person who will be responsible for probating your estate in California probate court and making sure the terms of your will are carried out. This is a significant responsibility, and therefore you should select someone you trust. In addition to choosing the first choice for your executor, it is a good idea to also select a backup executor if your first choice is unwilling or unable to serve. It's a good practice to choose an executor who lives near you. Selecting someone who lives in California as your executor makes probating your California estate a lot easier because your executor can easily access the California probate court. If you decide to select someone outside California to be your executor, make sure your will financially covers your executor for any travel or other expenses while probating your estate in a California probate court.

5. Pick a guardian for your minor children.

If you have minor children, you should pick the person that you would want to take care of your children in the event both you and your child's other parent pass. The person you select as guardian for your children should be ready and willing to provide for their basic needs including food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, and education. In addition to selecting the first choice for the guardian of minor children, it is a good idea to pick a backup guardian in the event that your first choice is unable or unwilling to serve in this vital role. In the event that you forget to select a guardian, a California court will appoint a guardian for your children.

6. Write your Last Will.

As you can see, the most critical aspect of making a valid California Will is to understand the information it must contain to be legally valid and binding. A California lawfully valid will should clearly state that it is your last will and testament. It should also include your name and the date that you domiciled in California. Be sure to note that you are of legal age under California law and that you have testamentary capacity ("a sound mind") to do so. Introduction of your will usually includes this critical information.  In the body of your will, you should then identify your executor, your backup executor, and any guardian or backup guardian for your minor children. In addition, you should explain how you would like your assets divided, and who should receive your property. For clarity, each request to an individual or charity should be in a separate paragraph.

7. Time to sign your will.

In California, your last will must be signed by two adult witnesses to be considered legally valid. Your witnesses must understand that the document they are signing is a will and they must sign the will in your presence. In California, witnesses must also be "disinterested," which means that they cannot be beneficiaries under the will. If an "interested" witness signs the will, there is a strong chance that their gift will be void. You must then sign your will for it to be valid, and usually, you must sign it in front of your witnesses. In signing your will, you are certifying that this is your will and you agree with its content. If you are physically unable to sign the will, you are generally permitted to ask a representative to sign for you in your presence. It is also a good idea to have the signatures on your will notarized of a notary public.