A will is a document that tells a probate court how to distribute the assets of the person who wrote the will -- known as the testator -- after he dies. A will must be prepared in accordance with state law or it will not be enforced. The laws of the various states differ somewhat on what is required to create a valid will. If your will is declared invalid, your property will be distributed among your relatives in accordance with the state intestacy law.
Identify yourself by your full legal name, your residence address and your Social Security number. State that you are of sound mind, that this document is your last will and testament, and that it revokes all previous wills or codicils. You should include the revocation statement even if you have never executed a will before. State that you are executing your will of your own free will, and that you have not been subject to any undue influence by anyone else.
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Appoint an executor and an alternate executor. Choose people you trust, because your executor will manage your estate under the supervision of the probate court after you die. List their names in your will after obtaining their consent to their appointments.
Add instructions on how to distribute your property after you die. Identify your heirs by their full legal names and by their relationship to you, for example, "To my nephew John Edward Doe I bequeath..."
Name a guardian for your minor children. If there is no remaining natural parent to take care of them, you should name a legal guardian in your will or the court will appoint one.
Execute your will in accordance with the law of your state. Most states require that you sign and date the will in the presence of at least two witnesses who are not heirs; Vermont requires three witnesses. State law may require that the witnesses sign the will in the presence of one another.
It is always best to consult a lawyer before finalizing your will.
If you execute your will in one state and die in another, it will be valid in the state where you die, as long as it is valid under the laws of the state where you executed it. This is true even if your will would otherwise be declared invalid under the law of the state where you die. If you executed your will in Texas using only two witnesses, for example, and you die in Vermont -- where three witnesses are required -- Vermont will still recognize your will as valid.
David Carnes has been a full-time writer since 1998 and has published two full-length novels. He spends much of his time in various Asian countries and is fluent in Mandarin Chinese. He earned a Juris Doctorate from the University of Kentucky College of Law.