A will is a written instrument that sets forth what you want to happen to your property upon your death. Every state has different laws about what makes a valid, legally binding will. In Michigan, you can prepare your own will without an attorney, and it will be deemed valid as long as certain criteria are met.
What Is a Will?
A will is a written instrument that sets out how a person wants to leave their property upon death. The person who is leaving the will is called the testator; people or entities receiving property under the will are called beneficiaries.
Do You Need an Attorney to Prepare a Will in Michigan?
Michigan law does not require that wills be prepared by attorneys. You can prepare your own will or have some other person prepare it for your signature. However, obtaining legal counsel to prepare a will and to make sure it's executed properly is always recommended. If you do accept the risk and prepare your own will, you'll need to make sure it complies with Michigan's Estates and Protected Individuals Code.
Michigan Requirements for a Valid Will
Generally, for a will to be valid in Michigan, it must be:
- In writing.
- Signed by the testator (or in the testator's name by someone else at the testator's direction while in the testator's presence).
- Witnessed by at least two individuals, who sign the will within a reasonable time after witnessing the signing.
Wills do not have to be notarized, but signatures of the testator and the witnesses before a notary will create a self-proving will. That means that the witnesses will likely not be called on to testify about the validity of the will because the notary stamp shows that the witnesses were there at the time the will was signed.
A will that doesn't necessarily meet all of these requirements might still be valid as a holographic will.
What Is a Holographic Will?
A holographic will is a handwritten will that doesn't meet all of the requirements of a regular will. Although it is less formal and not typewritten, Michigan law recognizes a holographic will as a valid will even if it wasn't witnessed, as long as it meets certain other requirements.
Read More: How to Write a Holographic Will
Michigan Requirements for a Valid Holographic Will
A will in Michigan will be deemed a valid holographic will if:
- It is dated.
- The testator's signature is in the testator's handwriting.
- All material portions of the document are in the testator's handwriting.
To prove a holographic will was truly meant to be the testator's will, you can produce other evidence of the testator's intent, including some portions of the will that are not handwritten.
Dangers of an Invalid Will
If a will does not meet the legal requirements for either a valid standard will or for a holographic will, it can be challenged in probate court after the testator dies. Poorly prepared wills can lead to litigation after the testator's death, and probate litigation can be very expensive.
Legal fees can eat away at the testator's estate, reducing the amount of money and property available to the beneficiaries. Worse still, will contests can tear families apart and destroy relationships.
If you're thinking about preparing your own will or helping a friend or family member prepare one, consider whether it's best to pay some money up front to have an attorney prepare will documents, which might avoid greater expense and emotional turmoil down the road.
Michigan law recognizes a will as valid as long as it is in writing, signed by the testator and witnessed by two people. Some handwritten wills may be deemed valid even without witnesses. You can prepare your own will without an attorney, but a lawyer's advice and assistance is a good idea when dealing with wills.
- It is not necessary to appoint a personal representative in a simple will. If a personal representative is not appointed, the court will name one.
- If the property to be distributed is significant, or you expect family squabbling over the will, hire an attorney with expertise to draft your will.
- In addition to the disposition of personal property, your will can contain appointments of guardians for your children and directives about life support.
- This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or counsel.
Rebecca K. McDowell is a creditors' rights attorney with a special focus on bankruptcy and insolvency. She has a B.A. in English from Albion College and a J.D. from Wayne State University Law School. She has written legal articles for Nolo and the Bankruptcy Site.