Wills, Trusts, and Estates
Making a Will
All states and UPC § 2-502(a) require the testator to sign the will for it to be valid.
Like in contracts, a signature is any mark made with the intent to be a signature.
It is often recommended to use a blue pen when signing, so you can easily tell the original from copies.
Attestation is the formal observation of the testator's signing by witnesses.
The UPC requires two witnesses to sign the will within a reasonable time after witnessing the signing or acknowledgment of the will.
Many states require all witnesses to be present when the testator sign his will and when they each sign it.
- A will wholly in the testator's handwriting is valid without further requirements, provided that the fact that a will is wholly in the testator's handwriting and signed by the testator is proved by at least two disinterested witnesses.
- A will not wholly in the testator's handwriting is not valid unless the signature of the testator is made, or the will is acknowledged by the testator, in the presence of at least two competent witnesses who are present at the same time and who subscribe the will in the presence of the testator. No form of attestation of the witnesses shall be necessary.
In England and some states, the line of sight test is used for presence. It requires the testator to have been able to see the witnesses sign the will if he looked. You have to be in line of sight. You can't be in a nearby room or something.
Some states use conscious presence, which requires the testator to comprehend that the witness is in the act of signing, whether through sight, hearing, or general consciousness of events.
Attestation clauses recite that the will was executed in accordance with the applicable Wills Act. No state normally requires an attestation clause, but they give a rebuttable presumption of due execution, so you should always have one.
A slim majority of states have purging statutes, which purge benefits that witnesses to wills receive therefrom. Most of them only purge the benefits in excess of what the witness would have received in intestacy however.
See pages 159–160 of the book.
- Put the full "Page X of N" at the bottom of the pages.
- Make sure the testator understands the will and get that in writing with just him.
- Then bring in the witnesses and notary and don't let them leave until done.
- Ask the testator if it's his will which he understands and desires in the presence of the notary.
- Ask the testator to request the witnesses to sign after him.
- Have the testator sign with the witnesses standing around him.
- Have the witnesses read the attestation clause.
- Have the witness sign.
- Have the testator and witnesses sign a self-proving affidavit swearing that the will was duly executed, which the notary then signs.
- Review the documents to make sure signed right.
- Write a memo saying you followed these protocols.
- Give the testator the will.
Different states have different and additional requirements however.
Virginia was the first state in America to permit holographic wills and UPC § 2-502(b) allows them as well.
About one-third of states the states permitting holographic wills require that the whole will be handwritten, including Virginia. The remaining states only require that the "material provisions" be handwritten and therefor allow for, say, filling in a form will by hand. These states are split roughly 50/50 on whether to allow extrinsic evidence in the establishment of testamentary intent. UPC § 2-502(b) does allow extrinsic evidence.
Almost all states allow the testator to sign anywhere on the will.
Traditionally, wills must be executed in strict compliance with all the formal requirements of the applicable Wills Act. Even if the court believes the will to be legitimate and intended by the deceased, they will not admit the will. (E.g.: Stevens v. Casdorph)
South Australia and some American jurisdictions follow a substantial compliance approach to will validation. This approach admits technically invalid wills as valid if the noncomplying will expresses the decedent's intent and sufficiently approximates the required formalities so as to serve the purposes thereof.
UPC § 2–503 treats a document as if it had been executed in compliance with the formal requirements
if the proponent of the document established by clear and convincing evidence that that decedent intended the document to constitute his will or a modification thereof.
Evidence of dispositive intent is different from evidence that a piece of paper was intended to serve as a will.