A last will and testament is almost always in writing. Since the person making the will can choose what kind of paper to use and whether to handwrite or type, a last will and testament may look like any other document. However, a will must contain certain elements to be legal in most states. Looking for these in a document can help you determine if the document is someone's last will and testament.
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Written wills are the most common format for wills. All 50 U.S. states require a will to be in writing in nearly all circumstances. A will may be written on any kind of paper, including a preprinted will form. The will may be accompanied by a video will or a will saved as a computer file, but these are not accepted as the will itself in any state with the exception of Nebraska. Nebraska will accept electronic wills but not video wills, according to MedLaw Plus. A will may be typed or handwritten, as long as it meets the state's requirements for a valid will.
Since a will can look like any other paper document, you may need to read the documents to figure out which is the last will and testament. A last will and testament will contain, at a minimum, the name of the person who made it, the date it was made, a statement saying it is the last will and testament of that person, at least one statement that gives something to someone and the signatures of the person who made the will and any witnesses required by state law, according to FindLaw.
Only Louisiana requires a will to be notarized in order to be valid, according to MedLaw Plus. However, many states allow a notarized statement in place of the sworn testimony of the will's witnesses to validate a will in probate court. Many documents may be notarized that are not wills, but a notarized signature accompanying the sworn statements of the witnesses who have signed the will is often part of a last will and testament, according to FindLaw.
Your chances of finding someone's last will and testament increase if you know what a last will and testament looks like and also by looking the places where a person is likely to keep his last will and testament. Many people keep their wills with other important documents in a fire safe or safe deposit box, according to FindLaw. However, some states seal a safe deposit box on the owner's death, meaning you may not be able to check the box for the will. An attorney can tell you if your state will allow you to check the safe deposit box for a last will and testament. Also, some attorneys keep an unsigned copy of a client's last will and testament, along with a note stating where the original can be found, according to FindLaw.