Preparing a legally enforceable will is an important step in securing the financial well-being of your close relatives and loved ones. Disputes over the validity of a will can negatively impact family relationships and drive costly litigation.

Self-preparing a will can potentially cause a court to declare the document invalid when specific state laws are not followed. An experienced wills attorney could advise you on the requirements of a valid will in Orange County.

Common Issues That Lead to a Will Contest

Although many factors can lead to a will contest in probate, one issue that often leads to disputes is the mental capacity of the deceased individual at the time the will was made.

The law requires that the testator have sufficient mental capacity to understand the nature of their actions, recall the description of their property, and remember which beneficiaries are impacted by the will.

When a person suffers from a mental health disorder that causes symptoms such as hallucinations or delusion, the Orange County probate court will rule they did not meet the requirements for a valid will.

Additionally, the state has rules in place to prohibit potential beneficiaries or interested persons from taking advantage of an older adult with diminished mental faculties by forcing them to create or modify a will.

California Probate Code § 6104 stipulates that a signed will or revocation is ineffective when the document resulted from undue influence, fraud, duress, or menace. Since many inheritance disputes involve mental capacity issues, an attorney in Orange County could provide advice about the required evidence to show or contest the validity of a will.

The Probate Court Must Evaluate Whether a Will is Valid

The state outlines certain mandatory rules for an Orange County probate court to rule that a will is legally valid. First, CA Prob. Code § 6100 mandates that the person who created the will is at least 18 years old and of sound mind.

CA Prob. Code § 6110 also requires that the will is in writing. The testator, or an individual granted the legal authority to act on their behalf, must also sign the document.

Two competent adults must witness the signing of the will, but the testator should choose their witnesses carefully. When a witness is also a beneficiary under the will, CA Prob. Code § 6112 states that there is a presumption the will resulted from improper influence or duress. The burden of proof shifts to the witness to show there was no illegal influence.

A will cannot fully dispose of property that is jointly owned by the deceased and another living person under CA Prob. Code § 6101. The will can only dispose a 50 percent interest in community property or quasi-community property.

Will distributions are not limited to humans, as they can bequeath property to a company, unincorporated organization, local government municipality, the state, the federal government, or a foreign government under CA Prob. Code § 6102.

Certain Steps Are Required to Legally Revoke or Modify a Will

The state also has requirements to legally revoke or modify a valid will in Orange County. According to CA Prob. Code § 6120, a second will created by a testator is only valid when it expressly revokes the prior will fully or partially.

Additionally, the rule provides that a will revocation is valid when the testator destroys the initial will with the intent to revoke. In situations with duplicate copies of the same will, the testator need only destroy a single copy for a valid revocation, according to CA Prob. Code § 6121.

Courts will generally assume that a second will that is not a duplicate revokes the initial will unless the testator makes clear they intended the first will to remain in effect. Such a determination would also depend on whether the documents have conflicting terms.

Contact an Orange County Attorney Today to Discuss the Requirements of a Valid Will

Failure to adhere to state laws could result in a probate court declaring the will unenforceable. A lawyer could help you avoid potentially costly probate disputes to resolve a will’s validity.

When you are contemplating creating or changing a will, contact an attorney to consult about the requirements for a valid will in Orange County.

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