How to finalize your will, living will and estate planning documents
To execute a will in any state in the United States, you must:
- Sign the document while you have capacity to know what you're doing.
- Have two people sign the will as witnesses.
Executing a will is the term for signing it and making it legal.
Surprisingly, you aren't required to have your will notarized, although there is an advantage to doing so in some states (more on that below). However, to make it legal, you have to do a few things right.
Of Sound Mind
Being of sound mind means you have legal "capacity" to be in control and responsible for your decisions – freely and voluntarily. More specifically, you understand what property you own, family relationships, and what happens because of this document when you die. Sometimes, this is contested in court due to age or illness.
In every state, your will must be signed by two adult witnesses, meaning over 18 year old. Also, the witnesses you select should not be beneficiaries – meaning, they should not be named in your will or 'get anything' when you die. Also, witnesses are sometimes called to probate court to testify to the validity of the will, in case there are complications or someone contests the will.
Signing the Documents
- Executing your will only takes about 10 minutes, but it takes a little set up time.
- Draft your will. Before you sign it, read it very carefully to make sure that you understand every word and that it accurately states your wishes.
- Gather your witnesses. Sign the will together, at the same time.
- Sign and date it. After the last clause of the document, sign and print your name and write the date. Then ask your witnesses to sign.
Congratulations, your will is now legal!
Self-Proving Affidavits and Notaries
Most states allow you to attach a "self-proving affidavit" to your will. The self-proving affidavit itself is a document with a brief statement that says that the will was property executed. It is signed by you and the witnesses and then notarized by a notary public.
If you decide to use a self-proving affidavit, you and your witnesses must go to the notary public together. There are mobile notaries who will come to you, your office, hospital, or someone's house, but you all must be present and sign at the same time.
To find a notary public, an online search will list the notaries in your area. Also, banks, libraries, and mailing stores frequently have notaries onsite. Notaries usually charge a small fee for their services, although if you hire a mobile notary to travel to you it can cost more. You can also use the American Society of Notaries to find a notary close to you.
Want to find an Attorney?Check out the GYST Resources page for Attorneys in your state.