Creating a will is an important step that every adult should take. However, most people do not really know very much about the creation process. Do you need a lawyer to create your will for you? What is it that makes the will legal? This short guide will explain the legal process, differences between states, and the best will-creation practices.
What Makes a Will Legal?
You may be surprised to hear what the actual requirements are for a will to be legal. There are only two requirements for most states:
- The will must be signed by two witnesses
- The will must be signed and dated by the owner of the estate
As long as these two things are fulfilled, the will is legal. While it is inadvisable, a lawyer does not need to be involved in the process at all. In fact, the will can even be handwritten. There are a few important things that you should note. First, the witnesses to the will need to witness you signing and dating it. Second, the witnesses cannot be anyone who is benefiting from your will. If someone will receive some property from your estate, he or she may not be one of your witnesses.
One final important note: You do not need to file your will with your state, but your will needs to be kept in a safe, accessible place. Your will is supposed to state who the executor of it is, and it is important for the executor of your will to know where it is being kept. The executor of a will is the person who ensures that your final wishes are carried out. Some states allow you to file your will officially, but this is never a required step.
About 25 states allow something called a “holographic will.” This is when the will does not have any witnesses who signed it. Usually, holographic wills are for smaller estates with very little property. The laws in states that allow this kind of will are much looser. As long as the will is signed in your handwriting, it should be official.
The downside is that probate courts usually treat holographic wills much stricter. They are scrutinized closely since there are fewer safeguards in place. If you want to be certain that your final wishes will be honored, you should avoid making a holographic will. Likewise, it is a very good idea to have a will lawyer produce your will for you so no mistakes are made.