A Will is a legal document in which you specify who is to receive your property at death and name an executor to handle the administration of your estate after your death. You can also use your Will to name a guardian for your young children. To be valid, a Will must be signed by the person who made it (called the testator), dated, and witnessed by two people. A Will totally in the handwriting of the testator, signed and dated (a "holographic will") but without witnesses, is also valid in California. Your Will can be amended or revoked by you while you are alive, but becomes irrevocable when you die.
In your Will, you can name:
- Beneficiaries: You may name beneficiaries (family members, friends, spouse, domestic partner or charitable organizations, for example) to receive your assets according to the instructions in your will. You may list specific gifts, such as jewelry or a certain sum of money, to certain beneficiaries, and you should direct what should be done with all remaining assets (any assets that your will does not dispose of by specific gift).
- Guardian: You may nominate a person to be responsible for your minor child's personal care if you and your spouse die before the child turns 18. You may also name a guardian (who may or may not be the same person) to be responsible for managing any assets given to the child until he or she is 18 years old.
- Executor: You may nominate a person or institution to collect and manage your assets, pay any debts, expenses and taxes that might be due, and then, with the court's approval, distribute your assets to your beneficiaries according to the instructions in your Will. Your executor serves a very important role and has significant responsibilities. It can be a time-consuming job. You should choose your executor carefully.
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