Every estate plan should have a Will as one of its components. Wills, however, can come in several varieties and have different requirements depending on which one you select.
Formal Witnessed Wills
A formal Will is usually produced on a word processor or other text editor. It has to be signed by you (the creator of the Will, also known as "Testator") and be witnessed by 2 witnesses. Best practice is to also include the date the Will was signed on the Will itself.
California Statutory Will
If you have a very simple situation, very little in the way of assets, or an immediate need (e.g., before you travel) it may make sense for you to utilize the California Statutory Will. This Will is essentially a form created with the Probate code of the State of California. (See California Probate Code Sections 6200-6243).
A holographic Will is one that is completely hand-written by the Testator. It must be completely handwritten by the Testator but it does not require witnesses.
Ancillary Provisions in the Will
The Will should also designate someone to act as your "Executor"--he or she will be the person in charge of making sure that your wishes are carried out. The Will is also where you may appoint a guardian for any minor children that you have. Finally, you may have a "power of appointment" that another person granted you, which may require you to exercise that power in your Will by including a provision in it.
Wills that are created in conjunction with revocable living trusts are often referred to as "pour-over Wills". The reason is that the primary function of the Will is to "pour-over" the assets into the revocable living trust that you created after you die. In this context, the Will is essentially a back-up document in case you forgot to properly re-title certain assets in the name of your trust. As mentioned in prior posts, avoiding probate is a major goal for most clients, and in most counties, Los Angeles included, the probate process can often take over a year to complete.