One of the most basic forms of estate planning is to prepare a will. A will can be extensive and cover every detail of dividing your property, naming guardians for minor children, and executors for your will. Alternatively, it can be just a simple document dealing primarily with property distribution. Additionally, if you have a living trust, having a “pour-over will” can make it easier for you to transfer any additional assets into the trust upon your death. Ultimately, it is important to prepare a will if you want to make sure that your wishes are followed after your death.

What Happens If You Die and Did Not Prepare a Will?

If you do not prepare a will, you will be considered to have died “intestate” upon your death. In this situation, the state intestacy laws divide your property among your surviving family members, starting with your spouse and children if any. If you have no spouse or children, and no other relatives can be found, the state can end up taking all your property.

Formalities Under California Law When You Prepare a Will

In order for a typed will to be valid in California, you have to sign it in front of two witnesses and have the witnesses sign the will themselves. There is no legal requirement to consult an attorney when you prepare a will, unless you foresee legal issues arising from the will, such as a will contest, or if you wish to disinherit someone. If you have a holographic will, which is a will written entirely by hand, you do not need to follow the formality requirement outlined above.  When you prepare a will in your own handwriting, the entire will must be written out in your own handwriting in a legible manner, and signed by you. Make sure you do not include any typed section in the will as this may invalidate it. Your will also has to clearly spell out what you are leaving to whom. There is also a statutory will form that you can use and fill in the blanks to customize it to your needs. After reading, filling in the blanks and reviewing the form, you must have the will witnessed by two witnesses and notarized. As the form states, notarization alone is not enough. Similar to the other wills, this form allows you to choose who gets your property after your death, and provides a way for you to disinherit some people if you so choose. This statutory will form is ideal for people with few assets.

Property That Cannot Be Distributed in a Will

When you prepare a will, it is critical that you list all your assets to make sure you take care of everything in your will. However, note that there are some assets that cannot be distributed in a will. California is a community property state; therefore, when you prepare a will, you cannot dispose of total interest in property acquired after marriage because a half-share belongs to your spouse. There is a similar concept when dealing with property owned in joint tenancy and other such joint ownership. You can only include your share of such property in your will. Additionally, you cannot include the proceeds of a life insurance policy and retirement benefits in a will. For these kinds of assets, the person who receives them upon your death is the person you have designated a beneficiary. If you would like assistance to prepare a will at an affordable price, you can contact A People’s Choice for high quality non-attorney help.

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A People’s Choice is a Registered Legal Document Assistant Service in Ventura County. A People’s Choice offers both local and online service for legal document preparation and processing in all California courts. Our innovative online interview process enables us to serve customers worldwide who find themselves dealing with the California court system in a variety of routine legal proceedings.