How to Write a Will in Ohio

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Writing a will is as much a decision-making process as it is a legal procedure, but some rules still apply. In Ohio, wills must generally be typed, or written entirely in your own handwriting. Unlike in some other states, handwritten wills must be witnessed, and oral wills are permitted, but only if you’re on your deathbed. You must speak your final wishes to two witnesses who have 10 days to write them down, then six months to file the statement with the court.

Wills Must Meet Basic Requirements

Ohio requires you to be at least 18 years old and of sound mind to write a valid will. The second requirement is sometimes misunderstood. You need only be lucid at the time you actually sign the document. It doesn’t matter if you get lost in the grocery store the next day -- as long as you were of sound mind at the time you signed your will, which means you understood what you were signing and why, what assets you own, who your family members are and to whom you are leaving your property. Ohio law also requires that you aren’t “under restraint.” This means that no one exerted undue influence on you to get you to write the terms of your will the way you did.

Decide Who Gets Your Property

The next step is to decide who gets what property. The only family members you can’t disinherit under Ohio law are your spouse and minor children. If you write your spouse out of your will, she has five months after your executor is appointed to notify the court that she rejects its terms. She can take the share of your estate that she would have received if you had died without a will instead. You can disinherit an adult child, but you might want to specifically state in your will that this is your intention so there’s no confusion. Otherwise, you can leave specific items of property to anyone you choose or give beneficiaries percentage shares of your entire estate. Your will can only pass property that requires a probate procedure. For example, life insurance proceeds go directly to the policy’s named beneficiary. Real estate owned with another person with rights of survivorship passes directly to that person at your death. You can’t write your will to override these provisions.

Name a Guardian and an Executor

If you have minor children, you can use your will to name a guardian for them, someone to raise them after your death. Even if you’re married, you and your spouse could die in a common event so this precaution can ensure that your kids would live with the person you select, not someone the court appoints. You should also name an executor in your will -- someone to manage the probate process. If you don’t, the court will appoint someone. This person doesn’t necessarily have to be a resident of Ohio. If she’s related to you, even by marriage, she can serve if she lives elsewhere. The rules get more complicated if she’s not related to you, as they then depend on the law of the state in which she lives. You might want to consult with an attorney before you name an out-of-state executor.

Meet Witness Requirements

Ohio law requires that you sign your will in front of two witnesses who are “competent.” This means that they’re not minors and they can testify in court. They can tell the court that you were of sound mind and not under restraint at the time you signed the document. Some states recognize self-proving affidavits, which are sworn statements signed by the will maker and his witnesses, attesting that the will is valid so the witnesses don't have to testify to the court, but Ohio isn’t one of them. If you can’t personally sign your will because of some infirmity, Ohio law allows you to instruct someone else to do it, as long as he does it in your presence and in the presence of your witnesses. Your witnesses cannot be beneficiaries under your will.


About the Author

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.

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