Table of Contents:
- How to Make Your Own Will in Massachusetts
- How to Make a Will in Georgia
- How to Make a Will in Louisiana
The basic fundamentals of making a will are relatively constant from state to state. Like most jurisdictions, you need to be at least 18 years old and you must be of sound mind to make a last will and testament Massachusetts. You’re not required by law to use an attorney to draw up a will, but if your estate is complex, you might want to take your finished document to a lawyer for review to make sure it accurately states your intentions and you didn't make any mistakes.
The Will Must Be Written
Massachusetts law requires that wills be committed to writing except under narrow circumstances. The state only recognizes nuncupative wills – those spoken aloud to witnesses – if you’re serving in the military or you’re a mariner at sea. Massachusetts lets you write your will by hand if you choose. This is sometimes called a holographic will, but by definition, a holographic will doesn’t require witnesses. This isn’t the case in Massachusetts – your handwritten will must meet the same standard requirements that a printed will would, so your witnesses must sign your handwritten document.
Consider Your Will’s Provisions
The most difficult part of making a will sometimes involves exactly what you want to say in it and how you want to dispose of your property. Some provisions you might want to include are naming a guardian to raise your minor children if you and your spouse die in a common event. If you’re divorced or separated and you don’t want your ex to have custody if something happens to you before they reach the age of majority, this would make your estate more complicated. You’d probably do well to consult with a local lawyer before you try to write such provisions on your own. You might also want to name someone to manage your children’s inheritances for them until they reach the age of majority, and an executor to manage your estate through the probate process. If you don’t express your preferences for whom you want to serve in these positions, the court will appoint people.
Disinheriting Loved Ones Can Be Tricky
When it comes to disposing of your property, the law meddles in your affairs a bit. Massachusetts does not allow you to disinherit your spouse if you are married. If you write your will in such a way to do this, she has a legal right to reject its terms and claim a share of your estate instead. How much of a share depends on whether you have children. If you make a will before you marry, Massachusetts law revokes it when you get married unless you state in the document that you were planning the marriage at the time you wrote it. If you make it while you’re married and then you divorce, the law revokes any provisions made to your ex, including bequests and naming her as executor of your estate. It can also be difficult to disinherit your adult children in Massachusetts, at least entirely. If you want to try to do so, you’ll probably need a lawyer’s help with this as well. Adult children are entitled to $10,000 in personal or other property off the top of your estate if you don’t leave a surviving spouse.
You’ll Need Witnesses
Massachusetts requires that at least two people watch you sign your will and that they then sign it themselves. If one of your witnesses is also a beneficiary, you’ll need three witnesses – two in addition to the one who stands to inherit from you. If both your witnesses are beneficiaries, you’ll need four. They must be competent, or "of sufficient understanding" to know that they are witnessing a will. It just means that the individual has “sufficient understanding” of what you’re doing and what she’s signing. This need only be at the time the will signing takes place. If she loses her faculties afterward, this won’t invalidate your will.
Identify Your Probate Property
You can only bequeath certain property -- your probate property -- in your will, so your first order of business might be to determine exactly what probate property you have to give away. These are assets that you own in your sole name that don't transfer to a beneficiary by contract or by operation of law. They require the probate process to be moved out of your name and into the name of a beneficiary. For example, life insurance policies and retirement benefits would go to the beneficiaries you've named on these assets so they're not probate property. Real estate you hold with someone else as joint tenants with rights of survivorship would transfer to that individual according to the deed and would not require probate. Payable-on-death accounts go to the person you've named as beneficiary by contract, so they're not part of your probate estate either. If you include these non-probate assets in your will, it can complicate probate proceedings because your will can’t override beneficiary designations made by contract or deed.
Allow for a Family Allowance
Although Georgia technically allows you to disinherit your spouse -- you don’t have to provide for her in your will and she’s not entitled to half of your marital property as she would be in community property states -- this doesn’t mean she gets nothing. Under most circumstances, she and your minor children, if any, are entitled to a year’s support from your estate. She must petition the court for this allowance, and the amount she receives is up to the judge based on various factors. The money or property comes off the top of your estate, so this could affect your other bequests if you don’t allow for it in your will. Speak with a local attorney to get a general idea of how much your spouse might receive based on your personal circumstances.
Name an Executor
You can also use your will to tell the court who you want to oversee probate of your estate. This is your executor and he’ll be in charge of settling your estate under the supervision of the court, ensuring that your debts are paid and your property passes to the beneficiaries you’ve named. You can also name someone as guardian to raise your minor children in the event that you and your spouse die in a common event, and someone to manage their inheritances for them until they come of age. If you don’t choose these people, the court selects them for you.
Commit Your Will to Writing
When you’ve decided on all the terms of your will, you must commit it to writing. In Georgia, this means typing the document or printing it out from your computer. You can buy form wills or software programs and simply fill in the banks, but this is risky because they tend to be one-size-fits-all and may not adequately address your personal concerns. Generic forms may not meet legal requirements unique to Georgia. The state doesn’t recognize handwritten wills, and it accepts oral wills only under limited circumstances. You must literally be on your deathbed and express your wishes to two people who understand that you want the terms to constitute your will. Your witnesses must then put your wishes in writing and submit the document to the court.
Meet Witness Requirements
Your will isn’t valid until it’s signed and witnessed. Georgia law requires that at least two competent individuals watch you sign the document, and then sign it themselves. If you choose someone to whom you’re leaving property, you’ll still need two more witnesses, in addition to this person. You might also elect to include a self-proving affidavit with your will -- a document signed by you and your witnesses, stating that they watched you sign it so they don't have to appear in court after your death to testify to this. Georgia has a statutory form for this; you can pick one up at your local courthouse or find one online. It's safe to use this form because it's approved and provided by the state.
Consider Attorney Review
Making a will is a bit more complicated than it might appear on the surface. You may think you have a firm understanding of what you should include, but you could easily make a mistake. Consider talking to an attorney before you start so you’re sure how local law applies to your personal circumstances. You can also take the finished document to a lawyer for review to ensure that it says what you think it says.
By far the simplest will to draft, the olographic testament permitted under Louisiana law is a will written entirely in your own hand. It must also be signed and dated in your own hand. In California and other states where it is permitted, this type of will is termed holographic. No particular legal language is required, but you must indicate in the document that you intend it to be your will. No witnesses are required to witness your signature or to sign the will.
The only other type of will permitted today in Louisiana is termed a "notorial testament." It is a typed or printed will that you must sign in the presence of two adult witnesses and a notary public. Don't just sign at the end of the will. You'll need to sign each and every page and at the very end. You also must state to the witnesses and the notary that the document is your will. Note also that a witness or notary should not receive a bequest under the will. If they are named in the will as beneficiaries, the will remains valid but the bequests are generally invalidated.
Witness Attestation Clause
Every notorial testament must contain a statement signed by the two witnesses and the notary that says you declared in their presence that the document was your testament and that you signed it at the end and on each other separate page. It must also say that, in your presence and in the presence of each other, they signed their names at the end of the will. You must also state the date. These requirements are strictly enforced and if not included can invalidate the will.
Will Types No Longer Valid
In 1999, Louisiana changed its will laws. When it did so, it eliminated three other types of wills. These will types -- the Nuncupative Testament by Public Act, the Nuncupative Testament by Prior Act and the Mystic Testament -- can no longer be used. Those people who made these types of wills before 1999 do not have to redo them, however. Any of these types of wills signed before July 1, 1999, remain valid.
Variations on a Community Property Theme
One of the problems with drafting your own will in Louisiana is the fact that the inheritance law has twists you might not expect. For example, in Louisiana a surviving spouse is entitled to a life estate in your share of the community property assets. This share is termed a usufruct. In addition, the law describes forced heirs -- your minor or disabled children -- who will inherit whether you include them in the will or not. So don't try to draft a will in this state without some knowledge of estate law, or consult with a local attorney.