By now you know that your estate plan should include, at a bare minimum, a will. But what’s the difference between a piece of paper that says where you want your property to end up, and a valid will that will be upheld in court?
One of the first tasks of the Probate Court when dealing with a deceased person’s estate is making sure the will (if one exists) is valid. What exactly does “valid” mean?
The Short Answer
You must be eighteen years old and of sound mind to make a valid will. The will must be in writing, signed by you (the “testator”) and two witnesses.
The Long Answer
The requirement of having reached the age of eighteen is pretty self-explanatory, and rarely an issue: making a will is fairly low on the list of things to do for most Michigan teenagers.
What does “sound mind” mean? That one’s a bit more subjective, but typically, if the testator has not previously been declared incompetent in a legal proceeding prior to the making of the will, they are considered to have been of sound mind. (This can, of course, be challenged.)
A “written” will can be typed or hand-written, though of course, most wills today are created on computers. A “will” recorded on audio or video is not considered to be “written” for the purposes of satisfying the Michigan statute
As you would expect, the testator must sign the will. However, if the testator is physically unable to do so, he is allowed to direct someone else to sign on his behalf, though not one of the witnesses to the will. If someone signs on the testator’s behalf, it must be done in his presence, while he is conscious.
The two witnesses can be anyone legally competent to act as witnesses. It is not necessary that they not be beneficiaries under the will. However, to avoid the appearance of impropriety, and a possible challenge to the will’s validity, it is preferable to use disinterested witnesses whenever possible.
The Best Answer
While it might be better to have a will you prepared yourself than no will at all, it’s almost always best to have a will prepared by a Michigan attorney experienced in estate planning.
Why? First and foremost, to make sure your will is prepared properly and that it includes everything you intend it to. Second, because a will may not be the only estate-planning tool you need to transfer your property as you wish after you die. If taxes or probate costs are a concern, there may be estate-planning mechanisms that keep more assets in your family’s hands than a simple will would. And third, a will prepared by a knowledgeable attorney and witnessed in his office by disinterested parties is less vulnerable to a will contest after your death than a homemade will.
If you want to secure your family’s future, it’s wise to consult with a skilled estate planning attorney regarding your particular needs and options. Contact our office today to set up a consultation with Bloomfield Hills, MI estate planning attorney Jim Hubbert.