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What Do I Need to Write a Will?



A will is a legal document that describes how your property should be distributed after your death. Can anyone write a will? Technically, yes, but over the years, states have passed certain requirements to ensure that a will is valid, that it reflects the desires of the deceased person, and that it is not merely a fraudulent attempt to obtain someone's property. To further complicate matters, each of our fifty states has its own particular requirements for a valid and enforceable will. Some requirements however remain fairly consistent from state to state.

Basic Requirements

In most states, you must be at least 18 years old to create a will. There must also be evidence that the person with the property, usually called the testator, is of sound mind and has not been coerced into signing the will. First, this means that the person must be mentally capable of making the decisions that the will contains, such as distributing property and naming executors, guardians, and other people to carry out his or her wishes. Second, these decisions must be made by the testator freely and not while being threatened or unfairly influenced.

Witnesses

The most common way to provide evidence that the testator knew what he was doing and was not being forced to do it is by the use of witnesses. The witnesses are present when the testator signs the will, and they also sign the will and bear witness that the testator was of sound mind, and not coerced into signing it. The law does not take the witnesses' signatures lightly. A witness cannot be one of the parties named in the will as a beneficiary. The law presumes that a person who stands to gain something from the will should not be used as a person who will impartially say that the testator voluntarily signed the will. Usually any person named as an executor or executrix cannot be used as a witness either.

Most states do not require that a will be drafted by an attorney. However, the complexities of each state's laws about will drafting requirements make the use of an experienced estate attorney an intelligent, if not required choice. If you are considering obtaining a will, consult with an attorney competent in estate law.