Follow These Steps to Make Your Will Legal

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Creating a will is one of the most important steps you can take to ensure your wishes are carried out after your passing. A legally valid will provides clear instructions on how you want your assets distributed and whom you want to appoint to handle your estate. While the core requirements for a valid will are consistent across states, you’ll need to follow the specific guidelines outlined in your state. 

Below, we’ll discuss how to make a will legal and some key considerations to keep in mind.

Whether you work with an attorney or use an online willmaker to create a will yourself, the document must meet certain criteria to be considered legally binding. These elements serve as the foundation for a valid will, regardless of the state in which it is created:

  1. Be of legal age, which is typically 18 years old.
  2. Have the mental capacity. The person making the will (the​​ testator) must be of sound mind and understand the implications of the document they are executing.
  3. Express voluntary intent. A valid will must be created without influence or coercion from others, and your intent to create it must be clearly expressed. If there is suspicion of duress or fraud, the will can be invalidated.
  4. Execute documents according to state laws. Legal requirements to execute a will typically involve signing it with at least one witness. How many signatures are required and whether the will needs to be notarized will depend on the state in which you live.

At the most basic level, legal wills also include the following information:

  • A title labeling the document as a “Last Will and Testament.”
  • Your full legal name and address.
  • A statement declaring intent and free will.
  • The name of your appointed executor who will handle your estate.
  • The name of your appointed guardian for any dependent children, if necessary.
  • The name(s) of your beneficiaries who will inherit your property upon your passing.
  • A list of your assets and their specific designations.
  • A list of your debts.

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Do Wills Have to be Filed With the Court?

A common misconception is that wills must be filed with the court immediately after being created. In reality, wills do not need to be filed or recorded with the court until after the testator’s death. However, there are a few exceptions. For instance, states like North Dakota, New Mexico, and Connecticut require wills to be filed or recorded after execution, even during the testator’s lifetime.

Read more: Here’s How Much You Should Budget to Make a Will

What makes a will legal? That depends on where you live. In most states, you need to sign your will in front of two witnesses — this is in addition to state-specific requirements.

For example, in California, the witnesses to a will must be “disinterested parties,” meaning they cannot be beneficiaries under the will or related to the testator by blood or marriage. In North Carolina, self-proving affidavits (sworn statements from the testator and witnesses) are recommended to streamline the probate process.

In certain states, such as Texas, Virginia, and Nevada, handwritten wills, also called holographic wills, can be considered legally binding if they meet specific requirements. Because these wills are written, dated, and signed in the testator’s handwriting, you’ll need to have a witness on hand who can verify the handwriting should it be called into question.

Does a Will Have to be Notarized?

While notarization is not required for a will to be legally valid in most states, it can provide additional evidence of the will’s authenticity and the testator’s intentions. A notarized will can potentially reduce the likelihood of challenges or disputes during the probate process.

Some people choose to make their will self-proving, and in this case, you’ll need a notary to execute it properly. When a will is self-proving, the court can accept your will without needing to contact your witnesses to prove its validity after your passing. 

To make your will self-proving, you must include a self-proving affidavit. It must be signed (or acknowledged) by both you and your witnesses in front of a notary, who will then notarize the affidavit.

The probate process can take time, especially if a witness has died or lives far away. A self-proving affidavit will speed up probate court proceedings because the court doesn’t need to contact your witnesses.

A self-proving affidavit has benefits, but it’s an optional document, and your will is valid without one.

What If You Write Your Own Will?

Can I write my own will and have it notarized?” It’s a common question with a pretty simple answer. Currently, Louisiana is the state that requires your will to be notarized for it to be considered valid. 

If you decide to write your own will, you can have it notarized for good measure. But to make it legally valid, you’ll take the necessary steps above to legalize the will and sign it in front of two witnesses, following the laws in your state.

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Bottom Line

Creating a legally valid will is a critical step in ensuring your wishes are carried out after your passing. The process of legalizing your will is generally consistent across states, but it’s important to be aware of any state-specific nuances or additional requirements.

Consult with an experienced estate planning attorney who can provide valuable guidance and ensure your will complies with all applicable laws. By taking the time to understand what makes a will legal, you can have peace of mind knowing your assets and loved ones are protected according to your desires.

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