California Last Will and Testament Law


Wills and Estates – Last Will and Testament Law – California

General: The California Probate Code Section 6100 through Section 8226 governs the execution of Wills and contains other provisions relating to Wills law. This summary is not intended to be all inclusive of the law of Wills but does cover many material issues.

Who May Make a Will: An individual 18 or more years of age who is of sound mind may make a will. Also, a conservator may make a will for the conservatee if the conservator has been so authorized by a court order pursuant to Section 2580.

California Probate Code Section 6100

Competence to Make Will: An individual is not mentally competent to make a will if at the time of making the will either of the following is true:

(1) The individual does not have sufficient mental capacity to be able to (A) understand the nature of the testamentary act, (B)understand and recollect the nature and situation of the individual’s property, or (C) remember and understand the individual’s relations to living descendants, spouse, and parents, and those whose interests are affected by the will.

(2) The individual suffers from a mental disorder with symptoms including delusions or hallucinations, which delusions or hallucinations result in the individual’s devising property in a way which, except for the existence of the delusions or hallucinations, the individual would not have done. see California Probate Code Section 6100.5.

Property to Pass by Will: A will may dispose of the following property:

(a) The testator’s separate property.

(b) The one-half of the community property that belongs to the testator under Section 100.

(c) The one-half of the testator’s quasi-community property that belongs to the testator under Section 101.

California Probate Code Section 6101

Who may receive property: A will may make a disposition of property to any person, including but not limited to any of the following:

(a) An individual;

(b) a corporation;

(c) an unincorporated association, society, lodge, or any branch thereof;

(d) a county, city, city and county, or any municipal corporation;

(e) any state, including this state;

(f) the United States or any instrumentality thereof; or

(g)a foreign country or a governmental entity therein. See California Probate Code Section 6102.

Execution: A will must be in writing and signed by one of the following:

(1) by the testator;

(2) in the testator’s name by some other person in the testator’s presence and by the testator’s direction;

(3) by a conservator pursuant to a court order to make a will under the Section 2580. The will must be witnessed by being signed by at least two person each of whom (1) being present at the same time, witnessed either the signing of the will or the testator’s acknowledgment of the signature of the will and (2) understand that the instrument they sign is the testator’s will. see California Probate Code Section 6110.

A written will is validly executed if its execution complies with any of the following:

(a) The will is executed in compliance with Section 6110 or 6111 or Chapter 6 (commencing with Section 6200)(California statutory will) or Chapter 11 (commencing with Section 6380)

(Uniform International Wills Act).

(b) The execution of the will complies with the law at the time of execution of the place where the will is executed.

(c) The execution of the will complies with the law of the place where the time of execution or at the time of death the testator is domiciled, has a place of abode, or is a national. See California Probate Code Section 6113.

Validity of Holographic Wills: A will that does not comply with Section 6110 is valid as a holographic will, whether or not witnessed, if the signature and the material provisions are in the handwriting of the testator. If a holographic will does not contain a statement as to the date of its execution and:

(1) If the omission results in doubt as to whether its provisions or the inconsistent provisions of another will are controlling, the holographic will is invalid to the extent of the incosistency unless the time of its execution is established to be after the date of execution of the other will.

(2) If it is established that the testator lacked testatmentary capacity at any time during which the will might have been executed, the will is invalid unless it is established that it was executed at a time when the testator had testamentary capacity.

Any statement of testamentary intent contained in a holographic will may be set forth either in the testator’s own handwriting or as part of a commercially printed from will. See California Probate Code Section 6111.

Extrinsic Evidence: Extrinsic evidence is admissible to determine whether a document constitutes a will pursuant to Section 6110 or 6111, or to determine the meaning of a will or a portion of a will if the meaning is unclear. See California Probate Code Section 6111.5.

Witnesses: Any person who is generally competent to be a witness may act as a witness to a will. A will or any provision is not invalid because the will is signed by an interested witness. Unless there are at least two other subscribing witnesses to the will who are disinterested witnesses, the fact that the will makes a devise to a subscribing witness creates a presumption that the witness procured the devise by duress, menace, fraud or undue influence. This is a presumption which will affect the burden of proof. This presumption will not apply where the witness is a person to whom the devise is made solely in a fiduciary capacity. If the devise made by the will to an interested party fails because the presumption applied to the devise and the witness fails to rebut the presumption, the interested witness will take such proportion of the devise made to the witness in the will as does not exceed the share of the estate which would be distributed to the witness if the will were not established that the witness procured a devise by duress, menace, fraud, or undue influence.. See California Probate Code Section 6112.

Revocation: A will or any part of the will may be revoked by the following:

(a) A subsequent will which revokes the prior will or part expressly or by inconsistency.

(b) Being burned, torn, canceled, obliterated, 0or destroyed, with the intent or purpose of revoking it, by either the testator or another person in the testator’s presence and by the testator’s direction. See California Probate Code Section 6120.

A will executed in duplicate or any part thereof will be revoked if one of the duplicates is burned, torn, canceled, obliterated, or destroyed, with the intent and for the purpose of revoking it, by either the testator or another person in the testator’s presence and by the testator’s direction. See California Probate Code Section 6121.

Divorce: (a) Unless the will expressly provides otherwise, if after executing a will the testator’s marriage is dissolved or annulled, the dissolution or annulment revokes all of the following:

(1) Any disposition or appointment of property made by the will to the former spouse.

(2) Any provision of the will conferring a general or special power of appointment on the former spouse.

(3) Any provision of the will nominating the former spouse as executor, trustee, conservator, or guardian.

(b) If any disposition or other provision of a will is revoked solely by this section, it is revived by the testator’s remarriage to the former spouse.

(c) In case of revocatoin by dissolution or annulment:

(1) Property prevented from passing to a former spouse because of the revocation passes as if the former spouse failed to survive the testator.

(2) Other provisions of the will conferring some power of office on the former spouse will be interpreted as if the former spouse failed to survive the testator.

(d) For purposes of this section, dissolution or annulment means any dissolution or annulment which would exclude the spouse as a surviving spouse within the meaning of Section 78. A decree of legal separation which does not terminate the status of husband and wife is not a dissolution for purposes of this section.

(e) Except as provided in Section 6122.1, no change of circumstances other than as described in this section revokes a will.

(f) Subdivisions (a) to (d), inclusive, do not apply to any case where the final judgment of dissolution or annulment of marriage occurs before January 1, 1985. That case is governed by the law in effect prior to January 1, 1985.

See California Probate Code Section 6122.

Legislative History: Section 6122 was amended in 2002.

Effect of termination of domestic partnership after execution of will:

(a)Unless the will expressly provides otherwise, if after executing a will the testator’s domestic partnership is terminated, the termination revokes all the following:

(1) Any disposition or appointment of property made by the will to the former domestic partner.

(2) Any provision of the will conferring a general or special power of appointment on the former domestic partner.

(3) Any provision of the will nominating the former domestic partner as executor, trustee, conservator, or guardian.

(b) If any disposition or other provision of a will is revoked solely by this section, it is revived by the testator establishing another domestic partnership with the former domestic partner.

(c) In case of revocation by termination of a domestic partnership:

Property prevented from passing to a former domestic partner.

(1) Property prevented from passing to a former domestic partner because of the revocation passes as if the former domestic partner failed to survive the testator.

(2) Other provisions of the will conferring some power or office on the former domestic partner shall be interpreted as if the former domestic partner failed to survive the testator.

(d) This section shall apply only to wills executed on or after January 1, 2002.

See California Probate Code Section 6122.1.

Locating Will: If the testator’s will was last in the testator’s possession, the testator was competent until death, and neither the will nor a duplicate original of the will can be found after the testator’s death, it is presumed that the testator destroyed the will with intent to revoke it. This presumption is a presumption affecting the burden of producing evidence. California Probate Code Section 6124.

Incorporation by reference: A writing in existence when a will is executed may be incorporated by reference if the language of the will manifests this intent and describes the writing sufficiently to permit its identification. California Probate Code Section 6130.