How to Execute Wills

By Teo Spengler

States impose few restrictions on who can make a will -- any adult who is of age and able to reason qualifies. Testators in some states can disinherit spouse and children, as long as they use clear language, however many community property states require that a spouse get a share of the property. States are picky about executing wills, and the term "execution of a will" actually describes how a will must be signed. Consulting with an attorney can ensure that the process is handled correctly, and in accordance with state laws.

Step 1

Determine your state's requirements for executing a will. Ask the clerk at the probate court or the law librarian to find the relevant probate statute describing will execution requirements in your state. Most states require two witnesses who affirm that that the testator signed the will and also that she knew the document was her will (termed "testamentary intent"). Some states require three witnesses. A notary cannot replace the witness requirement since a notarized signature does not affirm testamentary intent.

Step 2

Select two witnesses, or three if your state so requires. Your witnesses must be qualified to testify in court, so choose adults 18 years or older with at least average reasoning ability. Select witnesses younger than you are to make it more likely that you will predecease them. Most states require "impartial" witnesses, so do not select anyone who stands to inherit under your will. Some states preclude spouses from serving as witnesses.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan

Step 3

Affirm to the witnesses that you are about to sign your last will and testament. In their presence, initial each page of the will, then sign the will at the bottom. Below your signature is a witness statement. It declares that the testator acknowledged the document as her last will and signed the will in the presence of the witnesses. Ask each witness to sign on a witness line below the witness statement. Since the witnesses may be called to court to testify during the probate of your will, include their street addresses and telephone numbers below their names.

Step 4

Execute a holographic will without witnesses, if permitted in your state. A holographic will is written entirely in the testator's hand. In some states, holographic wills can be used only when the testator is faced with imminent death, but in other jurisdictions -- like California -- such wills can stand in for printed wills in all circumstances. The testator signs the will and no witness signatures are required.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan
How to Write a Last Will

References

Related articles

Rules for Witnessing a Will

A last will and testament is a powerful legal document that instructs the executor of an estate how to distribute the property of the writer of the will, known as the testator, after he dies. Because of the potential and motivation for fraud, state governments have passed laws imposing strict restrictions on the format of a will. All states require that the testator's signature be witnessed.

Is a Hand-Written Notarized Will Legal?

Your will can direct the distribution of your property after your death, name someone you trust to manage your estate and even nominate a guardian for your minor children. But your will can't do any of that if it isn't valid in your state. Generally, a handwritten will is just as legally valid as a typed or printed will as long as it meets your state's standards.

Basic Requirements for a Last Will & Testament in New York

A last will and testament is a sworn statement that declares how and to whom property will be distributed upon the death of the testator -- the person making the will. A will also appoints an executor to manage the transfer of the property according to the wishes of the deceased. The basic requirements to make a last will and testament in New York are outlined in the New York Estates, Powers and Trusts Code.

LegalZoom. Legal help is here. Start Here. Wills. Trusts. Attorney help.

Related articles

Can I Write My Own Last Will & Testament?

At its most basic, a last will and testament is simply a document indicating what you want done with your property, any ...

Can a Person Write Their Own Will & Then Have It Notarized?

In this age of technology, writing out a will by hand may not be the norm, but it is a perfectly acceptable alternative ...

Do I Need an Attorney to Make a Legal Will?

In most states, a legal or valid will must contain certain basic information, such as the testator's or will-maker's ...

How Can I Do My Own Will?

Less than half of American adults have wills. One reason for this low figure might be the common perception that wills ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED