Making a Will in New York

How to make a will in New York, and what can happen if you don't.

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What can I do with a New York will?

A will, also called a "last will and testament," can help you protect your family and your property. You can use a will to:

  • leave your property to people or organizations
  • name a personal guardian to care for your minor children
  • name a trusted person to manage property you leave to minor children, and
  • name an executor, the person who makes sure that the terms of your will are carried out.

What happens if I die with out a will?

In New York, if you die without a will, your property will be distributed according to state "intestacy" laws. New York's intestacy law gives your property to your closest relatives, beginning with your spouse and children. If you have neither a spouse nor children, your grandchildren or your parents will get your property. This list continues with increasingly distant relatives, including siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and your spouse's relatives. If the court exhausts this list to find that you have no living relatives by blood or marriage, the state will take your property.

Do I need a lawyer to make a will in New York?

No. You can make your own will in New York, using Nolo's do-it-yourself will software or online will programs. However, you may want to consult a lawyer in some situations. For example, if you think that your will might be contested or if you want to disinherit your spouse, you should talk with an attorney. Nolo's will-making products tell you when it's wise to seek a lawyer's advice.

What are the requirements for signing a will in New York?

To finalize your will in New York:

  • you must sign your will in front of two witnesses, and
  • your witnesses must sign your will.

Do I need to have my will notarized?

No, in New York, you do not need to notarize your will to make it legal.

However, New York allows you to make your will "self-proving" and you'll need to go to a notary if you want to do that. A self-proving will speeds up probate because the court can accept the will without contacting the witnesses who signed it.

To make your will self-proving you and your witnesses will go to the notary and sign an affidavit that proves who you are and that each of you knew you were signing the will.

Should I use my will to name an executor?

Yes. In New York, you can use your will to name an executor who will ensure that the provisions in your will are carried out after your death. Nolo's will software and online will produces a letter to your executor that generally explains what the job requires. If you don't name an executor, the probate court will appoint someone to take on the job of winding up your estate.

For more on New York estate planning issues, see our section on New York Estate Planning.

by: , J.D.

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