Posts tagged execution
What rules need to be followed when signing estate planning documents?

The laws in California have specific requirements when it comes to signing estate planning documents. Some require witnesses, whereas others require notarization or other formalities.

For example, certain types of Wills need to be signed by the Testator (creator of the Will) and the signature must be witnessed by at least 2 other people, all of whom should sign the Will. If a document needs to be recorded at the Recorder's Office, then the document must be notarized. 


These laws are enacted for your protection. They help ensure that you understand the seriousness of your actions. The formalities may also have the effect of preventing others from forging your name and/or giving notice to the public as to the ownership of your assets, such as with recording of deeds at the Recorder's Office. 

Out-of-State Estate Planning Documents

For people moving to California that already have an existing estate plan, a concern is whether those documents are effective under California law. As a general rule, if the documents followed the formalities of the state where you are moving from, then it should be valid under California law. For a specific statute involving a Will, see California Probate Code Section 6113.

Why can't I transfer my property?

Sometimes the obstacles to transferring property for estate planning purposes are outside of your control. The restrictions may be due to your marital status or status as a registered domestic partner, or the type of asset, such as an interest in a trust for which you may be beneficiary (i.e., a trust that was not created by you, but for your benefit).

However, restrictions may also be self-imposed, such as by agreements that you have with others not to transfer your property. A major hurdle in transferring property occurs when the transferring person loses the capacity to make the transfer.

Finally, even if you have the legal ability to make the transfer, you may nonetheless, wish to retain absolute control over property.

Lack of Legal Capability

A risk faced by some individuals is the possibility that someone will challenge the estate planning documents after you pass away. This often comes in the form of a challenge to the Will or other estate planning document that you've created.

You may have heard of this terminology before, but the challenges can range from the following:

  1. Failure to follow the formalities required when signing the estate planning documents. 
  2. Lack of capacity, mental or otherwise, to sign the estate planning documents.
  3. The assertion that there was fraud, duress, or undue influence.

Risk Minimization

If you are clearly competent, and your lawyer is not in a position where there's a conflict of interest, others are not unduly influencing the decision-making or otherwise inappropriately pressuring you to make a decision, and the proper formalities of signing your estate planning documents are followed, the risk of someone challenging your estate plan is relatively low. 

Although estate planning may present challenges even after the documents are prepared and signed, the risk of having your transfer fail can be minimized by introducing an independent lawyer to draft the documents. He or she can be on the lookout for potential future causes of challenges to your estate plan and can help you to navigate away from them.