Making a will is essential if you want to ensure that your property is distributed according to your wishes after you die. In Illinois, the Probate Act of 1975 -- contained in Chapter 755 of the Illinois Statute -- sets out the state’s legal requirements for a last will and testament. Section 4-1 provides that any individual may make a will, provided he is 18 years or over and of sound mind and memory.
Writing a Will
According to Section 4-3, all wills must be in writing and signed by the writer, also known as the testator. A will is also valid if signed by another person on the testator’s behalf, provided that the testator is present at the time. At least two credible witnesses must be present at the time of signing. Neither the witnesses nor their spouses can be beneficiaries of the will.
Changing or Altering a Will
Section 4-9 states that any addition to or alteration of a will is only effective if made by the testator and signed in the presence of two witnesses. Alterations written or typed onto a will can lead to uncertainty, and to avoid this, testators usually write a codicil. A codicil is a legal document that supplements a will and can be used to make small changes. To be valid, a codicil must be signed and witnessed with the same legal formalities as the original will. To avoid any ambiguity, the testator should arrange for the codicil to be placed with the original will for safekeeping after signing.
Revoking a Will
Section 4-7 of the Probate Act 1975 provides for revocation of a will in the event that the testator wishes to change his mind regarding his legacies or bequests. A testator may revoke his will by physically burning, canceling, tearing or obliterating it, or by directing someone else to do so in his presence. Alternatively, a testator can simply write a subsequent will, declaring that all prior wills are deemed to be revoked; however, it is still advisable to destroy any prior will.
Effect of Marriage and Divorce
Marriage has no effect on the validity of a will signed in accordance with the Probate Act of 1975. If, however, the testator's marriage is dissolved after she has executed a will, this will revoke any legacy or interest granted to her former spouse. According to Section 4-7, the effect on the will is as if the former spouse had died before the testator.