Understanding the Structure of a Will and Testament

Writing a will is one of the most important things you can do for your loved ones. It ensures they know how you want your estate handled after you’re gone and minimizes the risk of conflict. However, wills must be written correctly, or they may not be legally binding. 

The best way to guarantee your will is honored in probate court is to draft it with a skilled estate planning attorney. Understanding the basic structure of a will can help make your meetings with them more efficient. Here’s how wills work and the basic components of a will and testament in California.

Importance of Structuring a Will and Testament Correctly

Your will, also frequently called a last will and testament, is a critical legal document instructing your heirs about how you want your assets divided after your passing. It is used to determine your last wishes when you can no longer make them known.

If you don’t have a will in place when you pass, under California law, you are considered “intestate,” and your entire estate must be divided in probate. This is to be avoided if possible because probate is frequently time-consuming and expensive for your heirs.

Even if you have a will, it must be structured properly, or it may not be legally binding. Should this occur, your estate will be handled as if you did not write a will at all. Writing your will correctly is critical for protecting your assets and heirs.

Structure of a Will

While every person’s will is unique, the basic structure of a will and testament is typically the same. Probate judges expect to see the following sections in a well-written will:

Preamble or Declaration

This section accomplishes multiple tasks. First, you will identify yourself by providing your full name and residence. This ensures that the document is not mistakenly attributed to another person. 

Next, you will confirm that you have the capacity to sign a legally binding document. Specifically, you’ll declare that you are of sound mind and memory and that you are over the age of 18. This is necessary because minors and people who have lost their mental acuity are not considered competent to sign legal contracts. 

Finally, you must state that you intend the document to be your final will and testament. This revokes any previous wills you may have written, so there is no conflict between them.

Statement of Family and Beneficiaries

Naming your family and other beneficiaries ensures there is no confusion regarding your heirs. This accomplishes two things: it demonstrates your capacity and prevents confusion if you choose not to leave anything to a family member. You may also use this section to disinherit someone if you choose.

Identifying the Executor

Naming the executor of your will is critical. This person will work with probate on your behalf to ensure that your will is followed. Choose an executor you trust and who is likely to still be alive and competent when you have passed on. You may also name a secondary executor if the first cannot perform their duties when it is time to execute your will.

List of Assets and Bequests

This is the most complex section of a will. You’ll identify your assets, then explain how you want them to be divided. You can be as general or as specific as you like in this section, so long as your bequests do not violate state or federal laws. For example, you could simply leave your entire estate to your surviving children. You can also grant specific amounts and items to particular people, such as leaving a treasured piece of furniture to your oldest grandchild or the first child to get married.

This section is also where you can explain details of last wishes, such as how you want your funeral to be arranged and who should act as guardians for any dependents.

Experienced California Estate Planning Help

Every section of your will should be written with care and attention to detail. That’s why it’s crucial to consult with a skilled attorney such as the experts at The Dayton Law Firm P.C. We have decades of experience helping clients in San Jose and around California draft detailed wills tailored to their preferences. Reach out today to learn more about drafting a well-structured will.