How to Create Your Will: A Step by Step Guide

Nov 8, 2021 | Trusts, Estates & Wills

According to a 2021 Gallup poll, only 46% of US adults have a will that outlines how their assets will be managed and distributed upon their death. Out of the 46%, the majority are people above 65 years.

In another survey conducted in 2020, Gallup found the number of Americans who have a living will – which specifies the medical care they would like to receive should they become incapacitated and can’t tell their doctor or loved ones themselves – went up from 40% in 2005 to 45% in 2020.

These statistics show that most people are not prioritizing creating a last or living will, mostly because it involves death, which is not fun to think about, but that shouldn’t be the case.

Having a will is an important part of estate planning, which can give you peace of mind that your family will be well taken care of and avoid family conflict over your assets should you become incapacitated or die. I presume you’re reading this post because you want to create a last will. If that’s the case, that’s a good move!

In the following sections, I’ll answer some questions you might have about how to create a will in California.

What are the Requirements for Creating a Will in California?

To create a valid will in California, the following requirements apply:

  • You must be above 18 years old.
  • You must have a sound mind and memory. This means you understand what making a will involves and don’t have any mental health disorder that could cloud your judgment.
  • You must freely and voluntarily make your will. This means you should be under no pressure from family members or caretakers to write your will.
  • Your will must be available in writing. In California, oral wills are not valid. So, your will must be written by hand or typed and printed on a computer.
  • Your will must only include assets you own. If you’re married, you can only name beneficiaries for half of the community assets belonging to you.
  • Your will must be unambiguous on who gets what.
  • You must name an executor who will be responsible for executing your will.
  • You and two witnesses must sign your will at the same time. The witnesses that sign the will must be competent and not beneficiaries of your will. If you have a holographic will, also known as a handwritten will, you don’t need witnesses to co-sign the will. It is good to have them, anyway.

Do You Need an Attorney to Create a Will in California?

No, you don’t need a lawyer to write a will.

U.S. states like California have statutory will forms you can use to make a will. These forms, however, may not be the best way to create a will because you have to fill them out “as-is”, which can make it difficult to write a will that suits you. There are also many online tools that you can use to create a basic will that leaves your home, investments, personal items, etc., to your loved ones and names a guardian if you have children.

However, not all web-based software will comply with state law.

So it might benefit you to work with an experienced California estate planning attorney to create a will – particularly if you plan to disinherit a child or spouse, have a large estate spread in multiple states, or think someone might contest your will in probate court.

A Step-by-Step Guide on How to Create a Will

Whether you plan to create a will on your own or work with an estate planning attorney, the following are the steps you should take to make your will.

  • Make a list of assets you own

Your assets can be physical, such as a home, vehicle, jewelry, or financial assets like a retirement and bank account. Write all of them down, and once you do, decide which ones to include in your will.

Some assets like insurance policies and retirement accounts don’t need to be included in a will because they have beneficiaries listed. So, they can pass on outside of your will.

  • Decide who gets what

When doing this, use full names and clearly describe the asset you’re leaving each individual. For example, instead of stating “my son should get my car,” write your son’s full legal name and the make, model year, and color of your car.

Also, include an alternative beneficiary in case you outlive your first beneficiary.

  • If you have children, choose a guardian

Here you should list all your minor children by their birthdates and their full names and name the person you want to take the legal responsibility of raising them if both parents die.

When you choose a guardian, you could allow them to manage any property you leave your children until they reach 18, which is the age they can legally manage their inheritance.

Again, name an alternate guardian to take this responsibility should the first choice not survive you.

  • Choose an executor

An executor will handle the probate process, distribute your assets according to your wishes, and pay any debts or taxes you owe. You can name more than one executor of your will, but be sure the person you choose will do the task. The best way to ensure this is by asking anyone you’re considering if they’ll do it!

An executor doesn’t need any specific training and they can hire a lawyer to help them carry out their duties.

  • Get your will signed

Once you take all the above steps, sign your will in the presence of two witnesses to make it valid. Two other people who are above 18 and disinterested, which means they’re not named as beneficiaries in the will, should also sign the will.

California does not require you to notarize your will to make it legal. So long as you sign and witness correctly, your will is valid.

  • Safely store your will

Keep your will somewhere secure and where your family members can access it upon your death. This could be a desk drawer or cabinet where you keep all your important documents. Ensure you clearly label the document and inform your executor where you have stored it.

Gallagher Krich, APC: experienced California will attorneys

If you die without a will, a state court could decide who inherits your assets – or, worse, who will take care of your children. This process can be long, tiring, and expensive for your family, something I’m sure you wouldn’t want your loved ones to experience. The estate planning attorneys at Gallagher Krich, APC, can help you prepare a will that clearly outlines what happens to your bank accounts, home, belongings, and dependents when you’re no longer around. With a will in place, you can be sure your family knows what to do with your assets after your death.

Get in touch with us today at (858) 926-5797 or book an appointment online to talk to one of our attorneys who have over 30 years of combined estate planning experience. We will be happy to guide you through creating a will or establishing a concrete estate plan.

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