What requirements must I meet to make a legal will?

Most people want to control where their property goes after they die. A last will and testament is a legal document that allows you this choice. However, there are certain requirements that must be met for your will to be legally valid.

Texas recognizes three different types of wills, including oral wills, holographic wills and formal wills. Some legal requirements are the same, regardless of the type of will you make, but other legal requirements can differ.

In general, you must be at least 18 years old, be married or be in the armed forces to create a legally valid will. For a will to be valid, it also must be created:

  • When you are of sound mind
  • With testamentary intent
  • Without the use of force or deception

Requirements for oral wills

An oral will can only be made in your last illness. It must also be made at home unless you became ill away from home and were unable to make it home before dying. In most cases, you must have at least three credible witnesses, and your will must be proved in court in the six months immediately following your death. You will not be able to use an oral will to give away land or improvements on your land. Because oral wills have so many restrictions, they are usually not the best option except as a last resort.

Requirements for holographic wills

Holographic wills are wills that are handwritten. For a holographic will to be valid, it must be written entirely in your handwriting and signed by you. It does not need to be witnessed, but not having a witness could be a disadvantage when it comes time to have your will proved in court. Other problems can also arise with holographic wills. For example, it is easy to forget items, give away items that legally belong to your spouse or provide requests that are not clear. Handwritten wills can seem easy to create but often have unintended consequences.

Requirements for formal wills

Formal wills are typewritten wills, which are usually prepared by attorneys. For a formal will to be valid, you must sign the will or instruct someone else to sign the will for you in your presence. Your will must also be attested and signed by two witnesses who are above age 14. The witnesses must sign the will in your presence. Your witnesses should not be beneficiaries named in your will.

A formal will is usually the most reliable way to make your wishes for property distribution known. A well-written, formal will can also help the probate process go smoothly and can help prevent probate disputes. When it comes time to put your will to use, you will not be around to defend it, which is why it is usually prudent to take as much care as possible when creating your will.