If you don't make a will or use another legal method to transfer your property when you die, state law called "intestacy laws" will determine what happens to your property. Each state sets out an order of priority for your surviving relatives. Generally, it will go to your spouse and children or, if you have neither, to your next closest relatives. If the probate court finds no relatives (not even distant ones) to inherit your property, it will go to the state.
In addition, in the absence of a will, and if the other parent is unavailable or unfit, a court will name a guardian to care for your children and their property.
Beware that if you are part of an unmarried couple, your surviving partner will not inherit anything, so you might be especially motivated to create a solid estate plan. (A few states still have exceptions for registered domestic partners.)
To learn more about what happens if you die without a will, read How Is an Estate Settled If There's No Will: Intestate Succession.
Creating a basic will rarely involves complicated legal rules, and the hardest part of making a will might be figuring out what property you own and who will get it when you die—questions you can answer best.
WillMaker, which has been in wide and successful use for over three decades, prompts you to answer the right questions—and produces a will that fits your circumstances and is legal in your state.
But you may have a question about your particular situation that WillMaker does not answer. Or perhaps you have a very large estate and want to engage in some sophisticated tax planning. Or you may simply be comforted by having a lawyer give your WillMaker will a once-over. Whenever you have concerns such as these or simply feel that you are in over your head, it may be wise to consult an attorney with knowledge and experience in wills and estate planning.
For more information, see Making a Will: Are Lawyers Optional?
Handwritten, unwitnessed wills, called holographic wills, are legal in about half of the states. States can vary in their requirements. Generally, to be valid, all or part of a holographic will must be written and signed in the handwriting of the person making the will. In some states, a holographic will must also be dated. Some states allow you to use a fill-in-the-blanks form if the rest of the will is handwritten and the will is properly dated and signed.
A holographic will is better than nothing if it's valid in your state. But a will signed in front of witnesses -- like the one you can make with WillMaker is better. If a holographic will goes before a probate court, the court may be more strict when examining it to be sure it's legitimate. And if you don't have guidance—from a good self-help resource or a good lawyer—it's easy to write something that turns out to be ambiguous or even contrary to what you intended.
Electronic wills are made, signed, and witnessed electronically, with no
need for paper. Currently, only a few states have adopted laws to allow electronic wills. More states are sure to follow; however, until these new laws settle and most states have figured out how electronic wills will work (both practically and legally), stick to making your will on paper.
Read more about Electronic Wills.
No, a video cannot create a valid will. A valid wlll must be in writing and signed. In most states, it must also be dated and signed by two witnesses, who watch you sign it and can later testify, if necessary, that you appeared to be of sound mind and acting of your own free will.
Still, even if it's not a legally valid will on its own, a video recording can be a useful tool when making a will, especially if you are concerned that someone might try to challenge your will after your death. A video of you making or signing your will can provide useful evidence that you knew what you were doing when you signed the will and weren't manipulated. It can also offer solace to your loved ones, for example, if you wanted to explain in more detail why you chose to leave your property the way you did.
Read more about Video Wills.
No. You must sign your will in front of two witnesses, but no state requires that a will be notarized to be valid.
That said, some states allow you to attach a self-proving affidavit, which must be notarized, to your will. A self-proving affidavit is a separate document signed by your witnesses that makes it simpler to admit your will to probate after your death. If your state offers this option, your WillMaker will prints with a self-proving affidavit.
Read more about self-proving affidavits.
Very few wills are ever challenged in court. When they are, it's usually by a close relative who feels somehow cheated out of a share of the deceased person's property. To get an entire will invalidated, someone must go to court and prove that it suffers from a fatal flaw: the signature was forged, you weren't of sound mind when you made the will, or you were unduly influenced by someone.
Learn more about Grounds for Challenging a Will.
You can get more information about wills in WillMaker's Legal Manual, or in the Wills section of Nolo.com.
If you have a WillMaker question that the WillMaker Support page does not answer, contact Nolo's customer support team at 800-728-3555 or [email protected].
Keep in mind that Nolo's Customer Support representatives can answer questions about using WillMaker, but they can't answer legal questions.