During these perilous times, some people who don’t have any estate plan in place might ponder what will happen to their worldly possessions if they face an untimely death due to COVID-19. The State of California has laws that determine what happens to your worldly goods if you pass away without having made plans for their distribution. The important factor in determining who inherits the property is the legal relationship between the deceased person and his or her survivors. Sometimes the default laws mirror what a person would want but often they could lead to a person’s worst nightmare concerning who would inherit his or her estate.
Those without any type of estate plan in place might regret that they had not prepared earlier and now, with “stay at home” mandates, fear that it is too late to get it done; however, one thing that anyone can do without the involvement of any other person is handwrite a will. In California a handwritten will is called a “holographic will”. Generally, in order to be valid it must meet the following requirements: (1) the entire document must be handwritten by the person making the will; (2) the document should be titled “Last Will and Testament” or similar language such as “My Will”; (3) the document must be dated; (4) the document must contain a reference to the property to be disposed of and the identity of the beneficiary or beneficiaries (simply “everything I own to Cousin Susan Smith” is sufficient); (5) the document should identify the person who is nominated to serve as executor; and 6) the document must be signed. The document can be written on any paper but if possible, it should be written legibly on an 8.5” by 11” lined paper. On the other hand, a will written on any piece of paper could suffice if it meets legal requirements. If time and circumstances permit, the will should be as thoughtful and complete as possible. It does not need to be witnessed or filed with any Court or public agency. It should, however, be placed where it could be readily found if you aren’t available to point it out.
A holographic will is better than nothing but is a poor substitute for a formal, well-written will with proper “legalese” and witnesses. Where real property is owned, a living trust is even better because all wills must go through probate if the deceased person’s estate is over $166,250. With or without a holographic will, consider making it a top priority to create a formal estate plan when life returns to normal.
© 2020 by Marlene S. Cooper. All rights reserved. (Marlene S. Cooper is celebrating 40 years of practice! Her practice is focused entirely on estate planning, estate administration and probate. You may obtain further information at www.marlenecooperlaw.com, by e-mail at Marlene@MarleneCooperLaw.com, by phone at (626) 791-7530 or toll free at (866) 702-7600. The information in this article is of a general nature and not intended as legal advice. Seek the advice of an attorney before acting or relying upon any information in this article).