While putting together a will might seem like second nature to some, it’s a complete mystery to others. We’re going to go over what the basic formalities of a will are and why they are important to follow.
- The will must be in writing: By writing, I’m not referring to handwriting. It is recommended by most estate planning attorneys to avoid handwriting your will if at all possible. There are a few rare exceptions to a written will including a video will. Keep in mind, though, that these are rarely accepted unless special or dire circumstances are in place. The writing, be it typed or handwritten, must be readable. In most states, the testator must be at least eighteen years of age to write their will.
- The testator must sign the will: The testator is the person who is writing their will. This is a condition held within all states. The testator’s signature doesn’t need to be spelled correctly and it doesn’t need to be legible. If the testator is unable to sign their will, they can make a mark on the signature line. This mark can be an X, a fingerprint or any other mark denoting their attempt at authenticating their will.
- The will must be witnessed: Two signatures are required on most wills and, in some circumstances; three signatures are required in order to make the will a valid instrument. Those signing as witnesses do not need to know the contents of the will, and they cannot be a beneficiary or the spouse of a beneficiary listed on the will. Otherwise, their signatures are not valid. If the will does not have all the signatures, it is not a valid instrument.
- All signatures must be witnessed by each other: The witnesses must all be present when the testator signs the will, as well as in presence of each other’s signatures. The testator must also be present during all the witness’s signatures. Most estate planning lawyers keep everyone in the same room until all the signatures are complete.
Throughout history, there have been some interesting materials used for various individuals’ wills. Some have used the back of envelopes, receipts, ticket stubs, and the back of a bill and dust jackets of books. So long as the will meets all the above conditions to include all the signatures, it is a valid document no matter what it is written on. Despite this reality, estate planning attorneys still recommend a typed and legible document.