When people are approaching death, they may feel inclined to revisit and revise their last will and testament. While California law presumes that most adults have the mental capacity to revise their estate plans, waiting until the 11th hour to make critical changes could expose an estate and its heirs to unexpected complications, including potentially devastating probate challenges. Eleventh hour wills

Wills in California

California only accepts three forms of wills:

  • Attested wills. An attested will is typically written on a computer or typewriter, often by a lawyer, and signed in the presence of at least two disinterested witnesses.
  • Statutory wills. A statutory will is written using free, printable forms developed according to California law. Statutory wills are effectively templates. While they may be adequate for very simple estates, they have clear-cut limitations.
  • Holographic wills. A holographic will is written entirely in the testator’s own handwriting. Holographic wills do not require eyewitness attestations.

Deathbed Wills

A will is usually a well-considered document. Often, the testator spends weeks or months making important inheritance decisions before committing them to paper. However, people sometimes feel compelled to create or revise a will near the very end of their life, perhaps because:

  • They did not already have a valid will
  • They believe their existing will is either outdated or invalid
  • Recent events have forced another critical change

Ensuring a Deathbed Will Is Valid

California law does not make any special exceptions for deathbed wills. If the document is written in accordance with the state’s probate code, it will be considered valid.

In California, a will must be:

  • Written, rather than videotaped or recorded
  • Made by someone of sound mind—someone who understands that they are writing a will and can appreciate the practical effects of their estate planning decisions 
  • Signed by the testator
  • Attested by at least two disinterested witnesses, unless the will was written entirely in the testator’s own handwriting 

The Potential Problems With Deathbed Wills

While a will can be legally written or revised when the testator is near death, delaying the formation of an effective estate plan could have unexpected and potentially catastrophic consequences. For example:

  • The will might not meet the Golden State’s legal requirements for a valid will.
  • The will could be contested by a creditor or beneficiary, who may claim that the testator was influenced or pressured into making last-minute changes by a third party.
  • The will could conflict with other estate planning provisions.

Contact a CA Estate Planning Attorney Today

The Law Firm of Kavesh, Minor & Otis, Inc. has decades of experience helping Californians of all backgrounds plan their estates. Please send us a message online, or call us at 1-800-756-5596 to schedule your free, no-obligation consultation.


Philip J. Kavesh
Nationally recognized attorney helping clients with customized estate planning guidance for over 40 years.
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