Making a Will in California

How to make a will in California, and what can happen if you don't.

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Why should I make a California will?

A last will and testament (more commonly known as a will) can help protect your family and your property. A will can be used to:

  • leave your property to people (or organizations)
  • name a trusted person to manage property left to minor children
  • name a personal guardian to care for your minor children, and
  • name an executor, the person entrusted with carrying out the terms of your will.

What happens if I don't have a will?

Should you die without a will, state "intestacy" laws will dictate how your property will be distributed. California's intestacy law gives your property to your closest relatives, beginning with your spouse and children. In the absence of a spouse or children, your grandchildren or your parents will get your property. This list continues with increasingly distant relatives, including siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and your spouse's relatives. If the court exhausts this list to find that you have no living relatives by blood or marriage, the state will take your property.

Do I need a lawyer to make a will?

No. You can make your own will in California, using Nolo's do-it-yourself online will or will software. You may, however, want to consult a lawyer in some situations; for example, if you suspect your will might be contested or if you want to disinherit your spouse, you should talk with an attorney. Nolo's will-making products tell you when it's wise to seek a lawyer's advice.

What are the requirements for signing a will in California?

To finalize your will in California:

  • you must sign your will in front of two witnesses, and
  • your witnesses must sign your will.

Notarization is not required in California to make your will legal.

Should my will name an executor?

Yes. In California, you can use your will to name an executor who will ensure that the provisions in your will are carried out after your death. Nolo's will software and online will produces a letter to your executor that generally explains what the job requires. If no executor is named, the probate court will appoint someone to take on the job of winding up your estate.

For more on California estate planning issues, see our section onĀ California Estate Planning.

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