How Do I File My Last Will and Testament in Court?

By Laura Payet

How Do I File My Last Will and Testament in Court?

By Laura Payet

Your last will and testament allows you to say how you want your property disposed of after you pass away. If you have children, it also gives you the opportunity to appoint a guardian to care for them if you should pass on while they are still young.

A couple with an infant smiling and signing paperwork as a woman watches them

You do not need to file your will with a court or other public office before you pass away for it to be valid, although you can choose to. Filing your will yourself before your death is simple and can minimize any questions about its legitimacy later on. Generally, all you have to do is take the original document and the required filing fee to the appropriate state or county office. Follow these steps:

1. Make sure your will is valid.

The rules about how to execute your will vary by state. In most states, you must sign your will in front of two or three witnesses who can verify your identity and state of mind, and these witnesses must affirm that they witnessed your signature. The witnesses cannot be beneficiaries under the will. Some states also require notarization.

Your goal in drafting your will should be to make your intentions about the disposition of your property and care of your children as clear and direct as possible while fulfilling your state's requirements. Review your will to make sure you have accomplished this goal. Depending on the size and complexity of your estate, you may want to consult an attorney for assistance.

2. Find out where to file it.

Where and whether you can file your will depends on the state you live in. In some states, you can file your will with the clerk of the court that administers estates in your county. Typically, this is the probate court, but it may also be a district court or surrogate court. Other states, such as Maryland and Delaware, have a Register of Wills, where you may file your will for safekeeping. Finally, in lieu of other options, you may be able to file with the county recorder's office, where property records are kept. You would do this only if your will transfers title to property.

Your state's bar association or court system likely has information online about where you can do this. In some states, such as Texas, you may also have access to a legal hotline where a volunteer attorney can help you figure out where to go.

 

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3. Take your will to the appropriate office.

 

Take the original signed document and the appropriate filing fee to the court clerk's office, or whichever office is available to you. The staff there will give you a copy of the filed will, which you can keep in a safe place or have your attorney keep. You may also wish to give your executor a copy. Be sure to let your loved ones know where your will is on file so they can easily find it when they need it.

 

Remember that if you subsequently decide to update or change your will, you must file the new version to avoid potential confusion. Also keep in mind that if you file your will with the county recorder's office, it becomes a public record. This is not true of wills filed with the court, which remain accessible only to you, your attorney, or your designated representative until you pass away.

Having a will offers you valuable peace of mind knowing that your loved ones will be provided for in the future. Consult an online service provider for assistance drafting your last will and testament. As an alternative, you may want to hire an estate planning attorney.

 

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.