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What are the requirements for legally valid wills?

Wills are an important way for people to manage their affairs after they are gone. These legal documents enable people to pass property on to beneficiaries, make charitable donations to nonprofit organizations out of their estate and avoid disputes between family members. However, in order to have a valid will and a better chance of avoiding a will contest, Michigan residents need to be sure that their will complies with the legal requirements for valid wills.

The first most basic requirement is that a person must be a legal adult, 18 years old, in order to draft and execute the will. In addition, the drafter of the will must be legally competent. This means that the person must intend to execute a will, must have knowledge of his or her property and estate and must be aware of relatives who would potentially be beneficiaries or have some right to the estate. This requirement helps ensure that a person who is not of sound mind is not exploited by another person to draft a will for someone else's benefit.

Although there are not many requirements relating to specific provisions in the will, there must be at least one substantive provision that deals with passing on or disposing of the decedent's property. Additionally, the will must clearly indicate that it is the drafter's final statement as to property disposition.

The remaining requirements to legally execute a will are primarily procedural. In the majority of cases, the will must be written. However, there are some limited situations, such as imminent death, in which this requirement may be waived. The will must also be signed by the drafter. Only if there exists some type of accident, illness or illiteracy that makes the drafter unable to sign can a third person sign the will on behalf of the drafter. However, in that case, the drafter must designate the signer and the signer must sign the will in the drafter's presence. Finally, there must be at least two witnesses to the signing of the will. These witnesses must be able to understand the significance of their role in witnessing the signing of a will and must be competent to testify in court about the signing should the need arise.

Source: American Bar Association, "Wills and Estates: Writing Your Will-What do I have to do to make my will legally valid?" last accessed Oct. 19, 2014

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