Do You Need a Lawyer to Make a Will Legal?

By A.L. Kennedy

Most U.S. states have a handful of specific items that must be included for a will to be valid. These include items like a signature, the appointment of an executor, and at least one phrase distributing some or all of the estate, according to FindLaw. Although an attorney is not required to make a valid or legal will, an attorney can be helpful if you have children, a large estate, or are concerned about will contests after your death.


Most states have only a few requirements for a valid will: First, the testator, or person making the will, must be at least 18 years old. Second, the testator must be mentally competent to make a will, which means that he is of sound mind and understands what a will is and how it works. Third, a legal will must name an executor, or a person who will carry out the instructions in the will after testator is gone, according to FindLaw. Fourth, the will must contain at least one instruction for the executor to carry out. Finally, a legal will must be signed by the testator and must contain some evidence that the testator means it to be his will, such as the phrase "this is my last will and testament," according to the American Bar Association.


In most states, a will must be written down in order to be valid, according to FindLaw. You may write your will by hand or type it on a computer, typewriter or word processor. Since the laws governing electronic wills, such as those saved as computer files, is vague and changing rapidly in many states, it is wisest to print out your will if you use a computer to create it, according to the American Bar Association. If you write by hand, you may start on a blank piece of paper or use a preprinted will form available from many stationers. A handful of states allow video wills, but usually these wills only supplement a written will and cannot serve as a legal substitute for a written will, according to the American Bar Association.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan


In all 50 U.S. states, a valid will must be signed by the testator and also signed by at least two witnesses, according to FindLaw. Like the testator, the witnesses must each be over the age of 18 and be mentally competent. In Vermont, a third witness is required, and in Louisiana, a notary must sign the will in addition to the testator and the two witnesses. To maximize the chances that you will may be found legal by the probate court, you should sign in the presence of your witnesses and the notary, who will then be able to sign and testify truthfully that they saw you sign your own will, according to FindLaw.


Although a will can be valid without an attorney's assistance, it is wise to consult an attorney when preparing your will for a number of reasons: First, not all property can be passed to a beneficiary through a will. Joint bank accounts, insurance policies and other assets may pass outside probate, which means your will cannot affect who gets them, according to the American Bar Association. Also, if you believe your beneficiaries may fight about your will after your death, an attorney can help you minimize the chances they will contest the will by including language that explains why you have excluded a particular beneficiary or by including a no-contest clause, according to FindLaw.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan
Is a Self Made Will Legal if Notarized?



Related articles

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 to typed or printed wills. The key to making an effective handwritten will is knowing your state laws regarding whether witnesses are required and, if so, how many.

What Does a Legal Will Look Like?

A legal will is a will that meets the requirements in state law for the will to be recognized by that state. Each U.S. state has its own rules about legal wills, though many states have similar rules. A legal will often looks like many other legal documents. To recognize a legal will, you will need to understand the basic requirements to make a will legal in your state.

How to Prove a Will When Your Subscribing Witnesses Are All Dead or Unavailable

Wills can be an effective estate planning tool for distributing property after your death. But, for its terms to be honored when you pass away, most states require someone who was present at the time the will was signed to attest to the document's validity. Knowing how a will can be verified if all witnesses either pass away or cannot be found will help ensure that your property passes according to your wishes.

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

Related articles

Can a Power of Attorney Sign a Will?

A power of attorney grants one person the legal authority to act on behalf of another for certain purposes, which are ...

How to Write an Amendment to a Will

Once a will is written, signed, and witnessed, it is legal in most states as long as it meets state law requirements. ...

DIY for a Will and Testament

If your estate is small or you do not have minor children, you may decide to write your own will and testament. A DIY ...

How Many Different Types of Legal Wills Exist?

A will leaves instructions for handling someone's estate when she dies. However, the way these instructions are left ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED