My wife and I have simple California Wills, using a standard online form, that leave everything to each other. There is no language on this form, however, for a contingent beneficiary. If one of us dies, therefore, the survivor will be temporarily without a Will that makes any sense. Until the survivor has a chance to write a new Will, each of us would like everything to go a particular individual. (Call him John Smith.) Can we simply each add a paragraph to our respective current Wills saying, "If my spouse predeceases me, I leave all my assets and my possessions to John Smith."
2 Answers from Attorneys
This is an area, like criminal defense, where I almost always advise a person to get a lawyer. I am incredibly leery of will kits that people buy online, because I have had several cases where the heirs bring in a will that was prepared with a kit, and there are major expensive problems. In fact several of the wills that have been brought to me are invalid because they do not comply with California's will's statute.
People buy the kits with the belief that they save money, but in the long run, it costs them money. A good estate planning attorney can help you structure things that help with taxes, avoid probate expenses, and make things better for your loved ones. If you think an estate planning attorney is asking for too much, then shop around. Most estate planning attorneys that I know only recommend a will for items that are not placed in joint tenancy or in a trust.
There are so many nuances to this, that I cannot set forth all of the details here. There are not only requirements about what makes the will valid, but also what happens in situations such as simultaneous death of the spouses, or alternative beneficiaries.
I completely agree with counsel Roach's answer.The old saying still applies " penny wise......."