Once you've decided if you need a will, the next step is to write your last will and testament, and then make sure it's legally binding. After all, if you were to pass away without a will in place, your estate could go to probate court, with its those attendant costs, headaches and holdups.
Each state has its own requirements for what makes a last will and testament legally binding. Generally, however, it's simple: You’ll need to be of sound mind when you sign and date the will and have at least two disinterested people witness your signature.
Your last will and testament will be governed by the state where you keep your primary residence (or the state where you pay personal income tax).
It’s wise to familiarize yourself with any rules specific to the state where you live. For example, different states have different rules about holographic, or entirely handwritten, wills. Case in point: Texas generally recognizes holographic wills, while New York recognizes handwritten, holographic wills only in super specific cases.
Most states require two disinterested witnesses (meaning people who aren’t named in your will), but some also require notarization (like Louisiana).
Here’s a general rundown for each state:
Alabama: In Alabama, check out Title 43, Chapter 8. To make your last will and testament legally binding, you need two witnesses at the time of signing. You can’t sign your will electronically.
Alaska: You can find the statues in Title 13, Chapter 12. Your will must be written down, and signed by you or someone signing on your behalf in your presence. This signing needs to happen in front of two witnesses.
Arizona: You can find Arizona’s rules in Title 14. You need to sign the will (or have someone else sign for you in your presence, while you’re conscious) in front of two witnesses.
Arkansas: Take a look at Title 28. To make your will legally binding, sign it in front of at least two witnesses.
Colorado: Look to CRS Title 15 for details on the law. In Colorado, you can sign your will in the presence of two witnesses or do so in front of a notary public.
Connecticut: Find these laws in Chapter 802a. Like in many other states, you can make your will binding by signing in front of two witnesses.
Delaware: Title 12 lays out the rules in Delaware. In this state, you can just sign your will and have it witnessed by two people.
Florida: Look to Chapter 732 in Florida. Execution of a valid last will and testament means signing in the presence of two witnesses.
Georgia: Check out Title 53. In Georgia, you can make your will binding by signing with two witnesses.
Hawaii: Look for Hawaii rules in Chapter 560. As in many other states, your Hawaiian will can be executed if you sign in the presence of two witnesses.
Idaho: Rules about executing a will in Idaho are found in Title 15. In this state, you need to sign your will with two witnesses.
Illinois: Read up on 755 ILCS 5 to learn the details in Illinois. This is another state in which you just need two witnesses to watch you sign your will.
Indiana: In Indiana, look to Title 29. As the testator, you’d need to sign in front of two witnesses. You’re also free to create a self-proving affidavit if you choose.
Iowa: Chapter 633 is where you should look in Iowa. As with other states, you need to sign with two witnesses.
Kansas: Check out Chapter 59 in Kansas. In this state, you need to sign in the presence of two witnesses, who also sign.
Kentucky: Kentucky lists its regulations in Chapter 394. To make your will legally valid, you should sign in the presence of two witnesses.
Louisiana: You can find the statutes in CC 1570. This is one of the few states that requires notarization—so get ready to sign your will in front of two witnesses plus a notary.
Maine: For more nuanced info, read Title 18-A, Article 2. The basic gist? Sign your will in front of two witnesses.
Maryland: You can read the relevant statutes in GAM, Estates and Trusts, Title 4. In Maryland, your will becomes legally binding when you sign it in front of two witnesses (who also sign it).
Massachusetts: Take a look at Chapter 190B. To make your will binding in Massachusetts, sign it in front of two witnesses.
Michigan: The rules in Michigan are laid out in Act 386 of 1998. In this state, you’d need to sign your will in the presence of two witnesses, who also sign to verify they witnessed it.
Minnesota: Chapter 524 is where you’d want to look in Minnesota. To make your will legally binding, you should sign in front of two witnesses.
Mississippi: You can find details in Title 91, Chapter 5. If the will is written and signed by the testator, you actually don’t need any witnesses. If it isn’t solely created and signed by the testator, then you do need two or more witnesses.
Missouri: Title XVI explains the statutes in Missouri. Essentially, you need to sign in front of two witnesses.
Montana: Check out Title 72 for details. In this state, you should sign your will in the presence of two witnesses, who also should sign.
Nebraska: Chapter 30 describes the rules in Nebraska. In this state, you should sign your will in the presence of two witnesses, who also sign it.
Nevada: You can read up on the statutes in Nevada Title 12, Chapter 133. In this state, you need to sign the last will and testament to make it legally binding, along with two witnesses.
New Hampshire: Relevant statutes can be found in Chapter 551. You should, in this state, sign your will in front of two credible witnesses, who should also sign.
New Jersey: In New Jersey, the rules are determined by Title 3B. You can legally execute your will in this state by signing it in front of two witnesses.
New Mexico: The laws in this state are governed by Chapter 45. This is another state in which you need to print and sign your will in front of two witnesses to make it legally binding.
New York: Wills in New York state must abide by the Estates, Powers, and Trusts provisions. To be legally valid, the signing of the will must be witnessed by two people who must also provide signatures.
North Carolina:The requirements for drafting a will in this state are contained in Chapter 31 the state statutes. The signing of the will must be witnessed and signed by two people to be valid.
North Dakota: In North Dakota Chapter 30.1-08 of the state statues describes the necessary requirements for a will. To execute the will legally you may sign the document before a Notary Public or at least two witnesses.
Ohio: Chapter 2107 of the Ohio state statutes lays out the necessary elements of a will in that state. You must then sign the document in front of two witnesses who must also sign the will for it to be legally valid.
Oklahoma: In Oklahoma, Title 84 details the requirements to draft a last will and testament. For legal execution, the will must be signed in the presence of two witnesses who are also signatories of the document. You may notarize it as well.
Oregon: Chapter 112 dictates the proper steps for drafting a will in Oregon. Two witnesses must be present at the signing of the will, and also sign the document themselves to make it legally valid.
Pennsylvania: In this state, wills must follow the instructions laid out in Title 20, Decedents, Estates and Fiduciaries. You must sign the will or sign by mark. The will can be signed by another person on your behalf so long as you are conscious and present for the signing. In this case, two other people must witness and sign the document.
Rhode Island: Rhode Island’s Title 33 provides the necessary requirements to be met in drafting a will. At least two witnesses must be present when the will is signed, and then add their signatures to the will.
South Carolina: The requirements for drafting a last will and testament in South Carolina can be found in Title 62 of the state’s statutes. In accordance with this statute, the will must be signed by you and two witnesses.
South Dakota: You can find the necessary details for drafting a valid will in South Dakota in Chapter 29A-2 of the state statutes. South Dakota’s rules about signatures and validity can be found here § 29A-2-502.
Tennessee: In this state, Title 32 is where you will find the necessary elements for drafting a will. The will must be signed by you and at least two witnesses, if the will is neither a nuncupative nor a holographic will.
Texas: Look to the Texas Probate Code for the requirements you must follow to draft a will in Texas. To be legally valid, the will must be signed by you and two witnesses who are at least 14 years old.
Utah: In this state your will must follow the guidelines set out in Title 75, and must also be signed in the presence of two witnesses who will then add their signatures.
Vermont:In Vermont, Title 14 explains what is needed for a last will and testament. To make your will legally valid, you must sign the document along with two credible witnesses.
Virginia:The elements necessary to create a will in this state are laid out in Title 64.2. To finalize, you must sign the will along with two witnesses.
Washington:Wills in Washington state must adhere to the instructions in Title 11. The document must then be signed by you and two witnesses to be valid.
West Virginia: Chapter 41 describes the elements necessary to complete a will. The will must contain your signature and that of two witnesses to be valid.
Wisconsin:All of the details to create a last will and testament in Wisconsin can be found in Chapter 583. The will is made legally valid by the testator adding their signature along with two witnesses.
Wyoming: In this state, Title 2 outlines how to draft a will. Upon completion, it you must sign it along with two witnesses.
If you have specific questions about your state’s requirements, we suggest you reach out to a qualified attorney.
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