What is a last will and testament?

A last will and testament is the legal document by which you identify those individuals (or charities) that are to receive your property and possessions on your death. These individuals and charities are commonly referred to as the beneficiaries under your last will and testament. In addition, within the provisions of your last will and testament, you nominate an Executor to be responsible for the proper administration of your estate and the disposition of your property to your intended beneficiaries. The Executor may be an individual or an institution. After your death, the person or entity you have nominated to be your Executor petitions the court to be appointed Executor of your estate. After being appointed, the Executor manages your estate’s financial affairs and ensures that your property is distributed in accordance with your wishes as indicated in the last will & testament.

Also, if you have young children, you may use the last will and testament to nominate a Guardian(s) for your children who are under 18 years at the time of your death and for whom a guardianship would be necessary (i.e., meaning that your children’s other parent is already deceased at
your death).

Warning! Great care must be taken when you execute (i.e., sign) your last will and testament. California law requires that you must follow certain steps to properly execute your will and testament. The failure to execute your last will and testament in the proper manner may invalidate the entire document — thereby frustrating your intentions with regard to the disposition of your property on your death! Indeed, the failure to execute one’s last will and testament in the proper manner is one of the most common reasons for invalidating the last will and testament in its entirety. In addition, if you wish to make changes to your last will and testament — even changes that appear simple to you — you must do so in very precise ways else that particular change or even the entire document will be invalidated.

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