Do You Need a Lawyer to Make a Will Legal?

By A.L. Kennedy

Most U.S. states have a handful of specific items that must be included for a will to be valid. These include items like a signature, the appointment of an executor, and at least one phrase distributing some or all of the estate, according to FindLaw. Although an attorney is not required to make a valid or legal will, an attorney can be helpful if you have children, a large estate, or are concerned about will contests after your death.

Most U.S. states have a handful of specific items that must be included for a will to be valid. These include items like a signature, the appointment of an executor, and at least one phrase distributing some or all of the estate, according to FindLaw. Although an attorney is not required to make a valid or legal will, an attorney can be helpful if you have children, a large estate, or are concerned about will contests after your death.

Requirements

Most states have only a few requirements for a valid will: First, the testator, or person making the will, must be at least 18 years old. Second, the testator must be mentally competent to make a will, which means that he is of sound mind and understands what a will is and how it works. Third, a legal will must name an executor, or a person who will carry out the instructions in the will after testator is gone, according to FindLaw. Fourth, the will must contain at least one instruction for the executor to carry out. Finally, a legal will must be signed by the testator and must contain some evidence that the testator means it to be his will, such as the phrase "this is my last will and testament," according to the American Bar Association.

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Format

In most states, a will must be written down in order to be valid, according to FindLaw. You may write your will by hand or type it on a computer, typewriter or word processor. Since the laws governing electronic wills, such as those saved as computer files, is vague and changing rapidly in many states, it is wisest to print out your will if you use a computer to create it, according to the American Bar Association. If you write by hand, you may start on a blank piece of paper or use a preprinted will form available from many stationers. A handful of states allow video wills, but usually these wills only supplement a written will and cannot serve as a legal substitute for a written will, according to the American Bar Association.

Witnesses

In all 50 U.S. states, a valid will must be signed by the testator and also signed by at least two witnesses, according to FindLaw. Like the testator, the witnesses must each be over the age of 18 and be mentally competent. In Vermont, a third witness is required, and in Louisiana, a notary must sign the will in addition to the testator and the two witnesses. To maximize the chances that you will may be found legal by the probate court, you should sign in the presence of your witnesses and the notary, who will then be able to sign and testify truthfully that they saw you sign your own will, according to FindLaw.

Considerations

Although a will can be valid without an attorney's assistance, it is wise to consult an attorney when preparing your will for a number of reasons: First, not all property can be passed to a beneficiary through a will. Joint bank accounts, insurance policies and other assets may pass outside probate, which means your will cannot affect who gets them, according to the American Bar Association. Also, if you believe your beneficiaries may fight about your will after your death, an attorney can help you minimize the chances they will contest the will by including language that explains why you have excluded a particular beneficiary or by including a no-contest clause, according to FindLaw.

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Do I Need an Attorney to Make a Legal Will?

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DIY for a Will and Testament

If your estate is small or you do not have minor children, you may decide to write your own will and testament. A DIY will and testament can be legal, as long as it meets the requirements for valid wills in your state. Consulting an attorney can help clarify the specific instructions in your state's laws for making a will.

How Many Different Types of Wills Are There?

A will is a document that explains how to distribute your property after your death. There are several different types of wills, although not all types are valid in all states. In most cases, a will must be in writing and signed by the testator, or person making the will, as well as at least two witnesses. Consult an attorney to find out what types of wills are valid in your state.

Legal Wills & Lawyers

A legal will must meet the law's requirements for wills in the state where it is made. Each state has different laws governing wills. As of 2010, no U.S. state requires you to consult an attorney to make your will legal, nor does any state require you to have an attorney write your will for you to make it legal. However, because estate law varies in every state, it is wise to consult an attorney who practices estate law in your state to ensure your will is legal there.

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