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How do courts decide if a will is “valid”?

When starting the estate planning process, many people are concerned with following all necessary measures to make sure their will is “legally valid.” But what does that mean, exactly? What criteria need to be met for a will to be accepted by the courts? The process of determining the validity of a will is defined by California’s “last will and testament” laws. Here are some of the criteria that must be met:

  • The will must be made by someone over the age of 18: The exception to this rule would be a will created by an emancipated minor.
  • The will must be made by someone with “testamentary capacity.”: This means, in short, that the person creating the will must be of sound mind. Different states define this slightly differently, so if this is in question it is important to discuss the specifics with a divorce lawyer.
  • Two witnesses must sign the will: The witnesses must be “disinterested,” meaning they are not beneficiaries and have no stake in what the will proclaims.

Most wills are fairly easy to determine as valid, especially if they were created in a legal setting with all proper checks and balances met. Wills that may be called into question may include those that are handwritten, those where the instructions may differ from what is legally possible (for example, an attempt to disinherit a spouse), or those where the testator could have been under duress or otherwise incapacitated. Those who are executing a will, or who are looking to question the validity of a will, can benefit from knowing a court will consider under that law in order to determine the document’s validity.

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