Probate, trust, guardianship and inheritance litigation
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What Is A California Statutory Will?

By Andrew Gold, Esq.

A California statutory will is a form created by the California legislature that Californians can fill in, date, and have witnessed by two witnesses, to control the disposition of their assets upon their death.  The California statutory will provisions can be found in the California Probate Code, sections 6240-6243.

A fill-in-the-blank form might seem like a quick and easy way to deal with your estate planning, but there are certain shortcomings and risks with using a California statutory will.

What Can Be Disposed Of By A California Statutory Will?

A California statutory will breaks bequests down into four specific categories:

  • Personal Residence
  • Automobiles, Household and Personal effects
  • Specific cash gifts
  • Balance of assets (everything else)

One issue with the form is that you only have the option of giving items in a category to one person or group (with the exception of cash gifts).  Therefore, with the “automobiles, household and personal effects” category, you cannot give your car to one person, your jewelry to another, your stamp collection to another, and your furniture to someone else.  The California statutory will has limited flexibility for who gets what.

Who Can Receive Assets Pursuant to A California Statutory Will?

As stated above, the California statutory will limits the persons and groups that can receive property under the will.  With the exception of specific cash gifts, the property can be left to the following persons:

  • Spouse or domestic partner if the spouse or domestic partner survives the testator, otherwise to decedent’s descendants;
  • Nothing to spouse or domestic partner, all to descendants who survive decedent;
  • All to the following person who survives decedent (insert name)
  • Equally among the following persons who survive decedent (insert names of two or more persons)

With specific cash gifts, the California statutory will form provides blanks to insert the name of a person or charity to receive a gift, and the specific amount of the gift.

California Statutory Will Provisions for Children and Beneficiaries Under 25

The California statutory will also provides blanks to fill in the name of a first, second, and third choice of someone to serve as the guardian of a minor child if you pass away, and the child has no living parent as a result of your death.

The California statutory will form also contains an optional section that can be filled in to name a custodian to hold assets for a beneficiary until the beneficiary reaches any age from 18 to 25.  This section can be filled in if the testator has a concern that a beneficiary will not be mature enough to handle the bequest, but is limited by the age cap of 25.

Can You Make Edits To A California Statutory Will?

What if you want to cross out or add words to the form to make it just how you want it before you sign?  You cannot.  Pursuant to California Probate Code § 6240, in the legislature’s questions and answers about the California statutory will:

May I add or cross out any words on this Will?  No. If you do, the Will may be invalid or the court may ignore the crossed out or added words. You may only fill in the blanks. You may amend this Will by a separate document (called a codicil). Talk to a lawyer if you want to do something with your assets which is not allowed in this form.

You can, however, prepare a new will or prepare an amendment to the will if your desires change.

How Do You Execute A California Statutory Will?

Section 6221 of the California Probate Code provides:

A California statutory will shall be executed only as follows:

(a) The testator shall complete the appropriate blanks and shall sign the will.

(b) Each witness shall observe the testator’s signing and each witness shall sign his or her name in the presence of the testator.

Does A California Statutory Will Need To Be Notarized?

No.  There is no requirement under California law to notarize a will.  The will needs to be witnessed by two disinterested witnesses in order to be valid.

The bottom line is that a California statutory will is a form.  It is not a substitute for a comprehensive, California attorney-prepared, estate plan.

Andrew S. Gold, Esq.

Probate & Trust Litigation

Hourly & Contingency Fees Available

(650) 450-9600