What Constitutes a Legal Will in California? – 10 Simple Guidelines

Every state has its own specific rules about what makes a will legal or valid. The probate code in California establishes the requirements for creating a Last Will and Testament document.

Here are 10 simple guidelines to help you get started in preparing a legal Last Will and Testament.

1. The content of your Last Will and Testament document should be the instructions for the distribution of your property to people and organizations of your choosing after your death.

2. You may also use the Last Will and Testament document to appoint a legal guardian to take care of your minor children after you pass away.

3. Anyone over 18 years old and of sound mind can create a Last Will and Testament document.

4. This document should be dated and signed by you, the Testator, in the presence of two witnesses who must also sign it.

5. You should select witnesses who are disinterested, meaning – they should not be named as beneficiaries in your Last Will and Testament.

6. The Last Will and Testament document must be in writing, either handwritten or typed. 

7. Some special rules that apply to handwritten or holographic wills –
  • It should be written in the testator’s handwriting
  • It should be signed and dated by the testator
  • It does not necessarily need to be signed in the presence of witnesses
  • It should be clear and legible for the probate court to read and understand
  • The beneficiaries or the executor must show proof that the will is indeed in the testator’s handwriting
8. Some special rules that apply to statutory or type-written wills –
  • The probate code in California allows the use of this downloadable California Statutory Will form template for your convenience
  • The form can be used by single, married or divorced individuals with relatively small estates
  • As with other forms of type-written wills, it should be signed and dated by the testator in front of two witnesses who should also sign it
  • The form does not allow alterations or else it will be invalidated

9. A quick side note on “The Harmless Error Doctrine” – In case there’s an error in the document’s text or signature, the probate court can validate it as long as there is clear evidence proving that the testator intended it to be part of their will.

10. If the court invalidates your will due to errors, it will distribute your property or appoint the guardianship of your minor children according to California intestacy laws, which may not conform with your wishes.

What’s Next?

Please don’t take this list as legal advice. To help you create a valid and legally binding Last Will and Testament document, it’s best to consult the legal expertise of an estate planning attorney.


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