The Legality of Wills in Different States

by Beverly Bird
Most state laws do not vary remarkably in regard to writing a will.

Most state laws do not vary remarkably in regard to writing a will.

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If a will is in printed format, signed by the testator, or the person who is making it, and is witnessed by at least two people, it is accepted as legal in virtually every state as long as the maker is an adult and of sound mind. The exception is Louisiana, which requires that every page of the will -- not just the last page -- be signed by the testator and notarized.

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Age Requirements

The legal age to make a will is 18 in every state except Georgia, where a person as young as 14 years of age can make a will. However, some states' laws accept wills from individuals younger than 18 years of age under special circumstances. For instance, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, South Carolina and Virginia allow those younger than 18 to make a legal will if they are “emancipated” or living apart from their parents either due to marriage or court order. In Texas, you can legally write a will under the age of 18 if you are a member of the military. New Hampshire makes an exception for those younger than 18 only if they are married, and in Kentucky, a minor may legally write a will but only to appoint a guardian for her child, not to dispose of property.

Format Requirements

The three most common formats for wills are printed, oral or nuncupative, and holographic. Most states define a holographic will as one that is entirely in the testator’s handwriting and is not witnessed. 26 states recognize holographic wills as legal. However, Louisiana has some very stringent requirements for them, Maryland accepts them only from members of the armed forces, and Ohio’s statutes state specifically that a handwritten will is OK, but only if it is witnessed. Twelve states allow oral wills, and Washington accepts them only from members of the military.

Witness Requirements

Every state but Vermont requires two witnesses for a legal, printed will -- one that is not oral or holographic. Vermont wills must be signed by three witnesses. State laws vary as to whether or not witnesses can also be beneficiaries or executors. Most states allow an executor to be a witness, but the laws in 26 states contain special provisions that either void the inheritance entirely or allow only a minimal bequest under certain conditions if a witness is also a beneficiary.

Disinheritance Laws

Every state but Georgia prohibits you from disinheriting a spouse. The others have “elective share” provisions in their statutes. An elective share allows a spouse who is not bequeathed anything in a will, or who is left very little, to renounce or reject the will. In exchange, he can take a percentage, determined by state law, of his spouse’s overall estate. In some states, it is one-third; in others, it is a full half. Most states allow you to disinherit a child if you state specifically in your will that this is what you are doing. If you simply omit mention of your child in your will, he might receive a share of your estate equal to that which your other children received, or what he would have received if you had died without a will.