Making a Will in Illinois

How to write a will in Illinois, and what can happen if you don't have one.

Updated by , Attorney · University of Arkansas School of Law

Steps to Create a Will in Illinois

Here's a quick checklist for making a will in:

  1. Decide what property to include in your will.
  2. Decide who will inherit your property.
  3. Choose an executor to handle your estate.
  4. Choose a guardian for your children.
  5. Choose someone to manage children's property.
  6. Make your will.
  7. Sign your will in front of witnesses.
  8. Store your will safely.

Why Should I Make an Illinois 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 Don't Have a Will?

In Illinois, if you die without a will, your property will be distributed according to state "intestacy" laws. Illinois'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, nieces, nephews, and great grandparents. 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 Illinois?

No. You can make your own will in Illinois, using Nolo's Quicken WillMaker & Trust. However, you may want to consult a lawyer in some situations. For example, if you think that your will might be contested or you have especially complicated goals, you should talk with an attorney. See Do I Need an Attorney to Make My Estate Plan?

What Are the Requirements for Making a Will in Illinois?

To make a will in Illinois, you must be:

  • 18 years of age or older, and
  • of sound mind and memory.

755 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/4-1.

    Being "of sound mind and memory" is not a high bar to reach, and most will-makers will meet this standard even if they are forgetful or physically unwell. Ilinois law assumes that a person is not "of sound mind and memory" if the will maker was determined by a court to be disabled and has been appointed a plenary guardian or limited guardian by the court.

    You must make your will in writing in Illinois. It cannot be on an audio, video, or any other digital file. (Although, see "Can I Make a Digital or Electronic Will?," below.) Type and print your will using a computer, or you can use a typewriter. Illinois does not permit handwritten (holographic) wills.

    How Do I Sign My Illinois Will?

    To finalize your will in Illinois:

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

    755 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/4-3.

    Neither witness should be a beneficiary of the will. A witness who stands to inherit under the will may lose the right to that inheritance. 755 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/4-6.

    Do I Need to Have My Will Notarized?

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

    Many states allow you to make your will "self-proving," which allows the probate court to accept the will without contacting your witnesses. However, Illinois allows your will to be self-proved without a self-proving affidavit, as long as you sign and witness it correctly. 755 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/6-4.

    Should I Use My Will to Name an Executor?

    Yes. In Illinois, 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 Quicken WillMaker & Trust 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.

    Can I Revoke or Change My Will?

    In Illinois, you may revoke or change your will at any time. You can revoke your will by:

    • burning, cancelling, tearing, or obliterating your will yourself
    • instructing someone else to burn, cancel, tear, or obliterate your will in front of you
    • making a new will that states it revokes the old one
    • making a new will that is contradictory to the old will, or
    • writing a document that says you are revoking the will while using the same formalities you used to make your original will (see above). 755 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/4-7.

    If you and your spouse divorce (or if a court determines that your marriage is not legal), Illinois law revokes any language in your will that leaves property to your spouse or names your spouse to be your executor. 755 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/4-7. If you have any concerns about the effects of divorce on your will, see an estate planning attorney for help.

    If you need to make changes to your will, it's best to revoke it and make a new one. However, if you have only very simple changes to make, you could add an amendment to your existing will – this is called a codicil. In either case, you will need to finalize your changes with the same formalities you used to make your original will (see above).

    Can I Make a Digital or Electronic Will?

    Illinois is one of a handful of states that technically allows electronic wills (e-wills). The requirements for making a valid e-will can be elaborate, and the concept is still fairly new. As a result, e-wills are still not commonplace. For more details on Illinois' specific approach to e-wills, see What Is an Electronic Will?

    Where Can I Find Illinois's Laws About Making Wills?

    You can find Illinois's laws about making wills here: Estates 755 Illinois Compiled Statutes 5 Probate Act of 1975 Article IV Wills.

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