I am a huge fan of the DIY movement. I have a Pinterest account with boards on all kinds of things. It’s like electronic hoarding. But when it comes to important things, like root canals, rewiring my office, or protecting my life savings, I leave it to the experts. I am a big proponent of “You get what you pay for.”
So, if you insist on trying to be your own lawyer, please, please, read this. This is one of the few times in your life that you will get legal advice for free. I hope it is worth more than you pay for it.
- A typewritten or printed Will must have two adult witnesses.
- The witnesses cannot be beneficiaries of the Will (or related to beneficiaries of the Will), and they should not be related to you.
- Both of the witnesses must see you sign the Will, and they must sign the Will in front of you and in front of each other. All 3 have to be in the same room at the same time. Don’t sign the Will and run by the bank to get someone to witness it later!
- A Will does not have to be notarized. Many people mistakenly believe that having it notarized is some magical step that makes it legal. Lawyers prepare an affidavit which gets notarized, which is a separate document from the Will (and is usually attached to the end of the Will), but the Will itself must have two witnesses.
- I have been told that the LegalZoom forms do have a place for two (or three) witnesses. But many times over in my 30+ years of practicing law, I have seen these forms incorrectly signed and witnessed. For instance, the preparer will print the names of the witnesses on the lines, instead of having them sign their names, or they will witness at different times or at different places. And in those cases, the Judge is required to just throw the Will out. The rules are tough. It’s just not worth taking a chance on doing it wrong.
- Finally, you can write a handwritten will. The statistics show that your chances of ending up in litigation are 50% higher if you use a form or handwritten Will. But here’s the scoop. If your will is entirely in your handwriting, it can be validated for probate by sworn affidavits of others who recognize your handwriting. It is really easy to mess this up, but if you insist on trying, just write: “This is my will, John Doe is my executor, and I leave everything to _________________.” Don’t try to name each asset you own. If you name certain assets, at the end, be sure to say: “All the rest goes to ________________.” If you want to exclude an heir, say that. On second thought, if you want to exclude an heir, you just about have to see a lawyer to get it right.
In short, please consider paying a Tennessee licensed attorney who has experience in drafting Wills to put your final wishes in writing for you. It is one of the most important steps you will take in protecting your loved ones from unnecessary future lawsuits.