Estate planning terms can be confusing. For example, while the person who manages your estate after your death is called an executor, what that person does is not executing your will. To execute a will means to make it legally binding by signing it, so that it goes into effect upon your death. Before you can successfully execute your will, you have to make sure it is valid. Otherwise, the inheritors of your estate may challenge it in court.
The laws that set the requirements for a will vary by state, as an estate planning lawyer like one from the Kaplan Law Practice, LLC can tell you. However, there are some requirements that apply in all jurisdictions.
1. Choose Two Witnesses
The law requires that two adults be present when you sign your will and sign their own names so that they can attest to the fact that the document was duly executed. The probate court may need to contact them for verification after your death, so although the only age requirement is that they be at least 18 years old, you should consider whether they are likely to outlive you. They should not be people who stand to inherit anything from your will.
2. Review the Document
Before signing your will, look it over to be sure that it is free from errors. Even a careless typo could make your intentions confused or ambiguous and lead to legal challenges. Therefore, be sure that you read it carefully and do not sign it until you are sure that it is an accurate reflection of your wishes.
3. State Your Intentions
Your witnesses do not need to read the will or know anything about its contents. However, you do need to say out loud in their presence that you intend the document to be your will. It may seem like a pointless formality, but it could be important later.
4. Be of Sound Mind
This is not really something that you “do” before signing your will, but it is an important consideration because the question of whether you had the legal capacity to make the will may come up later. To be of sound mind and have the capacity to execute a valid will, you must understand the following:
- The effect the document will have
- Your family relationships
- The property you own
Because some medical conditions can diminish your capacity, you may want to write and execute a will when you are still relatively healthy, before receiving such a diagnosis.
Once you have completed all these steps, you can sign and date your will, making sure to initial each page. If you have more complicated estate planning questions or issues, one of our attorneys may be able to help.