Last Will & Testament
Frequently asked questions
What is a Last Will and Testament?
A last will and testament is a legal document that communicates a person's (testator) wishes as to how their property (estate) is to be distributed after their death and as to which person (executor) is to manage the property until its final distribution. A person with minor children is also able to appoint caregivers (guardian(s)) to care for their minor children.
What is required for a Last will and testament to be valid? Will Requirements:
Any person over the age of majority and having "testamentary capacity" (i.e., generally, being of sound mind) can make a will, with or without the aid of a lawyer.
Required content varies, depending on the state (jurisdiction), but generally includes the following:
• Capacity: The testator (person making the will) generally must be 18 years of and of sound mind.
• Intent: The testator must clearly identify themselves as the maker of the will and stating the intent to do so (this is my last will and testament).
• Expressly revoke prior wills or codicils: The testator should declare that he or she revokes all previous wills and codicils to avoid confusion. Failure to do so may result in older wills or codicils being upheld to the extent they are not contradicted by the latest properly signed last will and testament.
• Witnessed: Some stares require the testator to sign the last will in front of two witnesses who are not beneficiaries (receiving gifts of real or personal property) from the estate.
• Sign and Date: The testator must sign and date the last page of the will, usually in the presence of at least two disinterested witnesses (persons who are not beneficiaries).
• Notarized: Some states require the last will and testament to be signed before two non-beneficial witnesses in front of a notary public. This may be best practice if you do not know your states requirements.
• Be aware: If witnesses are designated to receive property under the will they are witnesses to, this has the effect, in many jurisdictions, of either (i) disallowing them to receive under the will, or (ii) invalidating their status as a witness. In a growing number of states in the United States, however, an interested party is only an improper witness as to the clauses that benefit him or her (for instance, in Illinois).
• The testator's signature must be placed at the end of the will. If this is not observed, any text following the signature will be ignored, or the entire will may be invalidated if what comes after the signature is so material that ignoring it would defeat the testator's intentions.
• One or more beneficiaries (devisees, legatees) must generally be clearly stated in the text, but some jurisdictions allow a valid will that merely revokes a previous will, revokes a disposition in a previous will, or names an executor.
In community property jurisdictions, a will cannot be used to disinherit a surviving spouse, who is entitled to at least a portion of the testator's estate. Generally, children may be disinterested in a will except for in Louisiana, where a minimum share may be guaranteed to surviving children.