Rules About Wills

by A.L. Kennedy
Wills must meet certain rules to be valid.

Wills must meet certain rules to be valid.

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Your will explains to those you leave behind how you want them to deal with your property when you die. It also allows you to appoint someone you trust to handle your estate, as well as to appoint a guardian for your minor children. Although there is no set form for wills across all states, a few basic rules can make a will valid in the eyes of a probate court.

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Testator

The testator is the person who makes the will. Normally, a testator must be at least 18 years old for his will to be considered valid. A testator must also be "of sound mind," meaning that he understands what his will does, who the beneficiaries of the will are and understands the property to be disposed of. In some states, a person under age 18 can make a will if he is a member of the armed forces.

Format

A will must almost always be in writing. A few states still accept oral (or nuncupative) wills, but only in dire circumstances and only if they are written down by a witness within a short period of time after the testator dies. A will can be in your own handwriting or typed, however not all states accept handwritten wills. Preprinted will forms are available in many states to help guide you in preparing your will, but they should not be used as a substitute for consulting an attorney.

Contents

Most states impose only a few rules regarding the content of your will. At a minimum, your will should contain a statement that it is your will and that it revokes all other previous wills. Write your name clearly and put the day, month and year on your will. Your will should also contain at least one statement that gives some part of your property to a named person or charity. Finally, your will should be signed and dated. You may wish to name people you trust to be your executor or the guardian of your minor children, but if you do not name anyone, the court will appoint someone.

Witnesses

A written will that is signed and dated by the testator, as well as signed by at least two witnesses, is generally considered valid in 48 states. Some states require witnesses for all wills, while others accept a handwritten will without witnesses -- as long as it is handwritten, signed and dated by the testator. Vermont requires three witnesses to sign a will, while Louisiana requires two witnesses plus a separate notary to sign a will.