After you have proceeded through all of Nolo’s Online Will screens and responded to all the questions the program poses, your will is nearly finished. There are just a few more steps you must take to make it legally effective so that the directions you expressed in it can be carried out after your death.
Before you sign your will, take some time to scrutinize it and make sure it accurately expresses your wishes. You can do this either by previewing it in the program or by printing out a draft copy. (Consult the Users’ Manual if you need additional guidance. You’ll find the Users’ Manual under the Help menu on any screen in the program.)
To be valid, a will must be legally executed. This means that you must sign your will in front of two witnesses. Each witness must sign the will not only in your presence, but also in the presence of the other witnesses.
There are a few legal requirements for witnesses. The witnesses need to be of sound mind. In most states, the witnesses need to be 18 or older. Many states also require that the witnesses not be people who will take property under the will. Thus, we require that you not use as a witness someone to whom you leave property in your will, even as an alternate or residuary beneficiary.
As a matter of common sense, the people you choose to be witnesses should be easily available when you die. While this bit of future history is impossible to foretell with certainty, it is usually best to choose witnesses who are in good health, are younger than you are and likely to remain in your geographic area. However, the witnesses do not have to be residents of your state.
In some states, you can sign a “self-proving affidavit” to accompany your will. This document will help your executor get your will admitted to the probate court without having to get statements from the witnesses that signed it.
If your state provides this option, a self-proving affidavit (and instructions for completing it) will print with your will.
Learn more about The Self-Proving Option.
You may want to have your will checked by an attorney or a tax expert. This makes good sense if you are left with nagging questions about the legal implications of your choices, or if you own a great deal of property or have a complicated idea of how you want to leave it. But keep in mind that you are your own best expert on most issues and decisions involved in making a will—what property you own, your relation to family members and friends and your own favorite charities. Also, some attorneys don’t support the self-help approach to making a will, so you may have to find one who is cooperative.
Learn more about Getting Help from an Attorney.
Once you have signed your will and had it witnessed, it is extremely important that you do not alter it by inserting handwritten or typed additions or changes. Do not even correct misspellings. The laws of most states require that after a will is signed, any additions or changes to it, even clerical ones, must be made by following the same signing and witnessing requirements as for an original will.
Although it is legally possible to make handwritten corrections on your will before you sign it, that is a bad idea since, after your death, it will not be clear to the probate court that you made the corrections before the will was signed. The possibility that the changes were made later may throw the legality of the whole will into question.
If you want to make changes after your will has been signed and witnessed, there are two ways to accomplish it: You can either make a new will or make a formal addition, called a codicil, to the existing one. Either approach requires a new round of signing and witnessing.
One of the great advantages of Nolo’s Online Will is that you can conveniently keep current by logging back into the program and making a new will. This does away with the need to tack on changes to the will in the form of a codicil and involves no need for additional gyrations. Codicils are not a good idea when using Nolo’s Online Will because of the possibility of creating a conflict between the codicil and the original will. It is simpler and safer to make a new will, sign it and have it witnessed.
Once your will is properly signed and witnessed, be sure that your executor can easily locate it at your death. Here are some suggestions:
Store your printed and witnessed will in an envelope labeled with your name and the word “Will.”
Place the envelope in a fireproof metal box, file cabinet or home safe. An alternative is to place the original will in a safe deposit box. But before doing that, learn the bank’s policy about access to the box after your death. If, for instance, the safe deposit box is in your name alone, the box can probably be opened only by a person authorized by a court, and then only in the presence of a bank employee. An inventory may even be required if any person enters the box or for state tax purposes. All of this takes time, and in the meantime, your document will be locked away from those who need it.