Is Your Will Legally Valid

A last will and testament can ensure your wishes are respected when you die.

But if your will isn’t legally valid, those wishes might not be carried out, and instead the laws of “intestate succession” would apply. In other words, the inheritance laws of your state would dictate who would receive your assets, and they might not necessarily go where you would want them to go.

If you have created a will online, we congratulate you for doing SOMETHING, but we strongly recommend that you have it reviewed to make sure it does what you want and is actually legally valid. We’ve seen it far too many times: someone THINKS they’ve created a will, because they did something, but the SOMETHING was the WRONG THING, and their family is left to deal with the fallout, confusion, and complications that result.

The validity of a will depends on where you live when you die, as last will and testament laws vary from state to state. Most states, however, require wills to meet the following criteria in order to be legally binding:

The Essential Requirements

  • You must be at least 18 years old, or an emancipated minor, to create a legally valid will.
  • You must be of sound mind and capable of understanding your intentions for your estate, who you want to be a beneficiary, and your relationship with those people when you create your will.
  • You must sign your will, or direct someone else to sign it if you are physically incapable of doing so.
  • There must be at least two witnesses—who are not beneficiaries— present at the signing. Some states do allow for one witness to be a beneficiary as long as the other witness is not.

Handwritten Wills
You may write a holographic will, meaning a will that is written completely in your own handwriting, with no other printed material on the page.

In that case, no witnesses are required, and, in fact, having a witness would make the will invalid because there must be no other writing, other than your hand on the page, for a holographic will to be valid.

When a Will Isn’t Valid
If your will does not adhere to your state’s requirements, the court will declare it to be invalid.

If the court declares your will to be invalid your estate could pass under your state’s intestacy laws, meaning your assets would go to your closest living relatives as determined by law.

Is a Will All You Need?
A will is a baseline foundation for any estate plan, but it might not be enough to protect your wishes.

A will does not keep your assets out of court and it does not operate in the event of your incapacity. A will alone also does not ensure that your loved ones receive your assets protected from unnecessary conflict or creditors.

The best way to ensure your will is legally valid is to consult with a Family Business Lawyer®. We can confirm your will is valid under our state’s laws and evaluate your estate plan to ensure it will protect your wishes and provide for your family according to your wishes in the event of your incapacity, or when you die.

This article is a service of Pantea I. Fozouni, Family Business Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. Go online today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.