Most people know that they should have a will, but many don't know what a will is and how it works.
A will, also called a "last will and testament," can help you protect your family and your property. You can use a will to:
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, great grandchildren, and great nieces and nephews. If the court exhausts this list to find that you have no living relatives by blood or marriage, the state will take your property.
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.
To finalize your will in New York:
You should sign at the end of the will; New York law may not recognize anything after your signature other than the self-proving affidavit (see below). New York law gives you 30 days to have your witnesses observe you signing or acknowledging your will, but you can have your witnesses sign at the same time as you do. Your witnesses must also write their addresses on the will. N.Y. Estates, Powers & Trusts Law § 3-2.1.
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 states who you are and that each of you knew you were signing the will.
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.
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).
You can find New York’s laws about making wills here: New York Consolidated Laws Estates, Powers & Trusts Article 3: Substantive Law of Wills Part 2.
For more on New York estate planning issues, see our section on New York Estate Planning.