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There are several reasons that a will may prove invalid. It is important for testators to be aware of these pitfalls in order to avoid them.

  1. Improper Execution The requirements vary from state to state, but California requires a valid will to be witnessed by two people not named in the will. Some jurisdictions require the document to be notarized as well, but not California. Although these restrictions may be relaxed if the will is holographic (handwritten), it is best to satisfy these requirements to ensure that the testamentary document will be honored by the probate court.  If you had your will prepared outside of California, you may want one of the estate planning attorneys at Schneiders & Associates, L.L.P. to review to make sure it complies with the requirements of California law.
  2. Lack of Testamentary Capacity Anyone over the age of 18 is presumed to understand what a will is. At the end of life, individuals are often not in the best state of mind. If court finds that an individual is suffering from dementia, is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or is incapable of understanding the document being executed for some other reason, the court may invalidate the will on the grounds that the individual does not have testamentary capacity.
  3. Replacement by a Later Will Whenever an individual writes a new will, it invalidates all wills made previously. This means that a will might be believed to be valid for months until a more recently executed document surfaces. The newest will always takes precedence, controlling how assets should be distributed.  One method to help avoid multiple and inconsistent wills being found at the time of the testator’s death is to have the originals kept with a depository and to destroy former wills.  Schneiders & Associates, L.L.P. maintain original will for our clients in a safe and secure manner and without charge.
  4. Lack of Required Content Every will is required to contain certain provisions to carry out its purpose. These provisions ensure that the testator understands the reason for executing the document.   It should be clear that the document is intended to be a will. The document should demonstrate an individual’s wishes in regard to what should happen to his or her property after death. A proper will should also include a provision to appoint an executor to act as an agent for the estate and enforce the terms of the will. If the document lacks any of these provisions, the will may be declared invalid.  Most of the estate planning clients at Schneiders & Associates, L.L.P, utilize trusts as their principal means of disposition on death.  In those cases, the will typically leaves assets not mentioned in the trust, and which may require probate, to be distributed to the trust.  This is called a “pour-over will” because the assets subject to probate are poured over into the trust.
  5. Undue influence or fraud A will that was executed under undue influence, coercion or fraud will be invalidated by a court. If a will has been presented to a testator for a signature as if it were any other document, like a power of attorney or a business contract, the court will find that the will was fraudulently obtained and will not honor it. If an individual providing end of life care with exclusive access to the testator threatens to stop care unless a will is modified, that modification is considered to be the result of undue influence and the court will not accept it.

If you have any questions regarding your will or estate plan in general, please call and make an appointment with one of the knowledgeable estate planning attorneys at Schneiders & Associates, L.L.P.

About the Author
Theodore J. Schneider practices in the areas of business and corporate transactions, employment law counseling, municipal and public law, real estate and land use, and homeowner associations. Ted began his legal career in 2002 when he joined the Los Angeles office of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, L.L.P. before relocating to Ventura County to join his father in practice.