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  • Writer's pictureLinda Varga

What Makes a Will Valid in California?

What Makes a Will Valid in California?

Creating a valid will is a crucial step in ensuring that your assets are distributed according to your wishes after your death. In California, there are specific legal requirements that must be met for a will to be considered valid. Understanding these requirements can help you create a will that stands up in court and provides clear instructions for your loved ones. Here’s a comprehensive guide on what makes a will valid in California.

1. Age and Mental Capacity

Age Requirement

The testator (the person creating the will) must be at least 18 years old. This is a fundamental requirement to ensure that the person has the maturity to make informed decisions about their estate.

Mental Capacity

The testator must have the mental capacity to make a will. This means they must understand the nature of the testamentary act, comprehend and remember the nature and situation of their property, and know and understand their relations to living descendants, spouse, and parents, as well as those whose interests are affected by the will.

2. Written Document

In California, a will must be in writing. While oral wills (nuncupative wills) are not recognized, the written document can be either handwritten (holographic) or typewritten.

3. Signature Requirements

Signature of the Testator

The will must be signed by the testator. If the testator is unable to sign, they can direct someone else to sign the will on their behalf in their presence. The person signing on behalf of the testator must do so in the testator’s presence and at their direction.


For a typewritten will to be valid, it must be signed by at least two witnesses. These witnesses must:

  • Be present at the same time when the testator signs the will, or acknowledges the signature or the will.

  • Understand that the document they are signing is the testator’s will.

  • Be competent adults who can testify to the validity of the testator’s signature and mental capacity.

Witnesses should not be beneficiaries of the will. If a witness is also a beneficiary, it may raise questions about the validity of the will and potentially lead to disputes.

4. Holographic Wills

A holographic will is a will that is handwritten and signed by the testator. In California, a holographic will can be valid even without witnesses, provided that the material provisions and the signature are in the testator’s handwriting. It’s important that the testator clearly indicates their intent to bequeath their assets through this document.

5. Intent

The testator must intend for the document to function as their will. This means that the language used should clearly demonstrate that the testator is outlining how their property should be distributed after their death.

6. Revocation and Amendments

Revoking a Will

A will can be revoked in California by the testator at any time before their death. Revocation can be done by:

  • Creating a new will that explicitly revokes the previous one.

  • Destroying the will physically (burning, tearing, or otherwise obliterating it) with the intention of revoking it.

  • Directing someone else to destroy the will in the presence of the testator and at their direction.


A codicil is an amendment to a will. Codicils must meet the same requirements as a will to be valid. This means they must be written, signed, and witnessed (if typewritten) or entirely handwritten and signed by the testator (if holographic).

7. No Duress or Undue Influence

The testator must create the will voluntarily, without being under duress or undue influence from others. If it can be proven that the testator was coerced or manipulated into creating the will, it may be deemed invalid.


Creating a valid will in California involves adhering to specific legal requirements to ensure that your wishes are honored and your estate is distributed according to your plans. By meeting the age and mental capacity requirements, ensuring the will is in writing, obtaining the necessary signatures, demonstrating clear intent, and understanding the rules for revocation and amendments, you can create a legally binding document. Consulting with an estate planning attorney can provide additional assurance that your will complies with California law and effectively communicates your final wishes.



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