The law is full of old rituals that today we would consider ridiculous.
For example, in early Bavaria, to convey real property by sale, by gift, or by will, one had to box the ears of young boys to seal the deal. The idea was that by creating a memory of pain in the child, he would be a good witness later in life if a dispute over the transfer ever arose. Without this formality, the conveyance was ineffective, even where the intended recipient took possession of the land and even if no dispute ever arose.
Thankfully today, the law has done away with such silly rituals.There are, however, three formalities you must follow too ensure that your property transfers upon your death in the manner and to the person your intend.
1) You must create a will. Write down all the property you own and to whom it should go upon your death. Without this basic document, all your property will be sent through the probate court and distributed to your heirs through the rigid state laws of intestacy.
2) You must sign your will. In California, this requirement can be filled one of three ways: you may sign the will yourself; your name may be affixed to the will by some other person at your direction and in your presence; or your name may be affixed by a conservator acting under court order.
3) Your will must be witnessed by at least two people. During your lifetime, at least two people who do not stand to inherit must sign your will as disinterested. Furthermore, they must be present and physically watching as you sign the will and they must be competent of the fact that they are signing your will.
If any one of these requirements is not met, the probate court can determine that you died without a valid will and the land that you wanted to go to your grandchildren may instead go to your son with a nasty gambling habit. Of course, there are some exceptions to these rules, but they too throw your intentions to the scrutiny of the court, which costs your estate time and money.
If you have any questions about the validity of your will, I urge you to talk to your estate planning lawyer.