Making a Will: Why Your State Matters

Include your state of residence when you make a will.

By , Attorney

When you make a will, you should include the state of your legal residence, sometimes called a domicile. This is the state where you make your home now and for the indefinite future. This information is vital for a number of will-making reasons.

Your state's laws affect:

  • marital property ownership
  • property management options for young beneficiaries
  • how your will can be admitted into probate, and
  • whether your property will be subject to state inheritance or estate tax.

If you live in two or more states during the year and have business relationships in both, you may not be sure which state is your legal residence. Choose the state where you are the most rooted—that is, the state in which you:

  • are registered to vote
  • register your motor vehicles
  • own valuable property—especially property with a title document, such as a house or car
  • have checking, savings and other investment accounts, and
  • maintain a business.

To avoid confusion, it is best to keep all or at least most of your roots in one state, if possible. For people with larger estates, ideally this should be in a state that does not levy estate or inheritance taxes.

Learn more about Estate Taxes and Inheritance Taxes.

You can make your own will, quickly and easily, using Nolo's Quicken WillMaker.

Living Overseas

If you live overseas temporarily because you are in the armed services, your residence will be the home of record you declared to the military authorities. Normally, your home of record is the state you lived in before you received your assignment, where your parents or spouse live or where you now have a permanent home. If there is a close call between two states, consider the factors listed above for determining a legal residence or get advice from the military legal authorities.

If you live overseas for business or education, you probably still have ties with a particular state that would make it your legal residence. For example, if you were born in Wisconsin, lived there for many years, registered to vote there and receive mail there in care of your parents who still live in Milwaukee, then Wisconsin is your legal residence for purposes of making a will.

Including Your County

Including your county in your will is optional but recommended. it will help others identify you and track down your property after your death. Also, a county name may provide those handling your estate with important direction, because wills go through probate in the court system of the county where you last resided, no matter where you died. The one exception is real estate: That property is probated in the court of the county in which it is located.

If Your Choice Is Not Clear

If you do not maintain continuous ties with a particular state, or if you have homes in both the United States and another country, consult a lawyer to find out which state to list as your legal domicile.

Learn more about Making a Will on

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