Is a Will Created Without an Attorney Legal?

By Barbara Diggs

It is perfectly legal to make your own will, though you must take special care to ensure that the will complies with the laws of your state. If your will is not executed properly, a court may rule it invalid and your wishes may not be carried out according to your instruction.

Creating a Valid Will

State law determines what constitutes a valid will. Although the laws vary, they typically cover the same issues. To create a valid will, you must be over the age of 18 and be of sound mind, which means you must understand that you are making a will and act of your own volition. In most cases, the will must be signed by you and two or three witnesses, and may need to be notarized. An oral will may be acceptable in rare circumstances, as when someone is on his deathbed. The distribution of your assets may also be subject to state law if you are married. In many states, it is illegal to disinherit your spouse.

Online Wills

You can create a will by entering information about your assets, heirs and executors into an online program that automatically generates the appropriate last will and testament documents for you in conformance with the laws of your state. Once you create a will online, you still have to sign it and have it witnessed in accordance with state law. Some online will programs offer to have an attorney from your state review your documents for an extra fee. According to Bankrate.com, as of December 2010, the price of online will programs range from $20 to $225.

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Writing Your Own Will

You may opt to draft a will yourself by typing it up. A few states allow handwritten wills, though these are subject to very specific conditions. When writing your own will, you must be careful to state your wishes as a clearly as possible -- any ambiguity with respect to your assets or bequests can result in an invalidation of the entire will.

When to Retain an Attorney

Under certain circumstances, it is best to have a lawyer draft or review your will. A lawyer can make sure that the will conforms to state law and meets the needs of your particular situation. You should probably retain an attorney if you have a blended family, are not a U.S. citizen, have assets in multiple countries or states, have minor children, are in a same-sex relationship, have over $2 million in assets or are concerned that someone may try to contest your will. You may also want to hire a lawyer if you feel uncertain about the validity of a will you’ve created, or simply for your peace of mind.

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References

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Wills in Pennsylvania

Title 20, Sections 2501 through 3132, of Pennsylvania’s Consolidated Statutes lists the state’s laws regarding wills. In some respects, they are more lenient than statutes in other states, but if you write your own will, it may still be prudent to have an attorney review the finished product to ensure it accomplishes everything you want and that your county’s Register of Wills, who accepts and approves wills after death, will not declare it invalid because of some technical shortcoming.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Doing Wills Online

You can privately prepare your will online through a will preparation website, but whether or not online will drafting is right for you depends on your financial and personal circumstances. An attorney may be needed to prepare your will and review the document for accuracy and compliance with your state's legal standards, especially if you are providing for the guardianship of minor children.

How to Write a Hand Written Will

When you write your last will and testament by hand, it’s called "holographic" in legal terms. Some states require witnesses for holographic wills; others do not. Some states don’t accept handwritten wills at all. Check with your state’s website or consult with an attorney to be sure of your area's guidelines.

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