A recording of your last wishes does not constitute a valid will in any state, at least not when it stands alone. A great many individuals record their wills anyway, as a safeguard against will contests and other eventualities that might result in the probate court not honoring their bequests. Video- and audio-recorded wills generally enforce or back up your written will. If you don’t also leave a written will, most state courts will rule that you died without one.
Decide your recording method and whether you’re going to ask a professional or a family member or friend to record the event. Professional recordings usually stand up better in court, because they’re clearer. Additionally, if you employ the services of anyone who stands to inherit from you, you’re leaving a door open for other heirs to contest your will on the basis that this individual coerced you. Video records are usually more beneficial than audio recordings, because you’re offering additional visual proof that you’re of sound mind.
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Schedule a date for the recording. Avoid selecting a date after a big event in your life or right after you’ve met a major challenge at work. Get plenty of rest the night before. Whether you choose an audio recording or a video recording, you’ll want to appear alert, refreshed and -- above all -- in full charge of all your faculties. If there’s any chance you’ll appear or sound exhausted or distracted, reschedule. You don’t want to give your heirs any opportunity to say that you weren’t lucid or of sound mind.
Decide what you want to include in your recording. If you elect to do a video recording, you can include visual proof of the actual signing of your will. With either a video or audio recording, you'll probably want to read the pertinent paragraphs of your will aloud, if not the will in its entirety. If you think any terms of your will are going to startle or disgruntle your heirs, add an explanation regarding why you've made your bequests the way you did.
Avoid any breaks or interruptions in the recording, if you’re using an amateur videographer, or if you’re taping an audio recording on your own. Don’t keep hitting the “pause” button. A court might wonder later, after your death, what you omitted during those times, and if it was something you didn't want anyone to see or hear.
Store your recording with your written will. You’ll want to ensure that, after your death, your family finds them together. If they find your written will, but not your recording, your recording is useless. If you have any concerns that your heirs might challenge the terms of your will and won't want the court to hear or view your recording, you can leave additional copies with individuals you trust to bring it to the attention of the court.
Because a recorded will is only as good as the written will it enforces, you’ll want to make sure your written will stands up to scrutiny. If you don’t want to hire an attorney to draft your will, consider using the services of a professional document-drafting service, such as LegalZoom. You can give LegalZoom all your pertinent information, and they will forward you a completed and professional will within a few days.
Beverly Bird is a practicing paralegal who has been writing professionally on legal subjects for over 30 years. She specializes in family law and estate law and has mediated family custody issues.