A last will and testament is a legal declaration by which a person (called a testator) names one or more persons to manage his estate (assets and debts) upon his death. To be valid, a will must meet certain formalities. For example, it must be in writing, and properly witnessed and executed by the testator.
The first word “Last” in the title Last Will and Testament carries its common meaning. It is used because people have a tendency to change wills, and the latest version supercedes former. The word “Will” has historically been limited to the management of real property while the word “Testament” applied only to dispositions of personal property; thus giving rise to the popular title of “Last Will and Testament.” The “will and testament” distinction is not a required formality in California.
Within 30 days of a testator’s death his or her will is offered to probate court, usually by the executor, to start the probate process. Everyone named in the will and the decedent’s heirs must be given notice of the proceeding. If the probate judge finds the will valid, the executor is given letters of testamentary. With those letters the executor has the authority to administer the probate estate according to the testator’s stated wishes.
A quick note on handwritten wills. Handwritten wills that meet holographic will formalities are indeed valid in California. Handwritten will amendments, known as codicils, are likewise valid.
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