Berman & Asbel, LLP

Essential elements in a valid will

You won't find many people would argue that there's no value in creating a will. There might be some who would argue that it's not worth the time or the money unless you have excessive wealth. It may be easy for them to hold that view. They won't be around to witness the hassles that get triggered by their not having put down into words how they want their assets distributed upon their death.

In a bid to strip away the veil of uncertainty or mystery that some may feel hangs over the will-making process, here are some observations from the American Bar Association about what it takes to make sure that any will you do create will stand up to legal scrutiny.

To start with, it's good to keep in mind that there are no strict formulas that must be followed. Handwritten wills on the back of an envelope have been upheld by courts before. That is not recommended, however. Following are other elements most estate planning attorneys agree need to be present.

  • You must be of legal age. The legal age may differ depending on what state you are in. In Pennsylvania, you must be at least 18.
  • You must be of sound mind. This means that you are competent. Absent-mindedness or forgetfulness doesn't tend to count as evidence of incompetency. You also need to generally know the assets you own and who your heirs would be -- a spouse, children or others.
  • It must be clear. There's got to be a clause in the will that spells out how you want property and assets to be distributed. The will should also clearly declare somehow that you intend it to be a will.
  • Your signature. Unless you're incapacitated by illness or accident, or you don't know how to write, your signature must be on the will and it must have been given voluntarily. If this is an issue of concern for you, speak to an attorney.
  • It must be properly executed. This typically means that it has two valid witness signatures provided at the time you sign it, has that declaration that it is a will, is dated and includes the place where it was signed.

These are just some of the pieces it can take to be sure all goes well with your will.

Source: American Bar Association, "Making a Will," accessed June 26, 2015

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