A will—often legally titled a “Last Will & Testament”—is a written document signed by a person (and attested) that directs how the person’s assets are to be distributed and disposed of after death. For example, if a person has an automobile that they want to go to a friend or favorite nephew, then that person can direct that the automobile be given—as a “bequest”—to the friend or nephew.
In general, wills can be changed as life circumstances change. Many people have several wills over their lifetime. In some manner, the most current will state that “all prior wills are hereby revoked…” Wills are used for the disposition of assets and are also VERY important for tax planning to allow for the payment of as few taxes as possible. This is particularly important for large estates. Making a will also gives a person the ability to name a person who will be in charge of distributing the assets. This is often a spouse, family member or trusted family friend.
Requirements For A Valid Will
In both Maryland and the District of Columbia, to be valid and enforceable by the court, the following requirements must be met:
- The will must be in writing—no oral wills, no video wills uploaded to social media
- The will must be signed by the maker
- The person making the will must be mentally competent at the time the will is signed
- The will must be attested to by two disinterested witnesses—disinterested means the individuals are not receiving anything under the provisions of the will
- The witnesses attesting must actually watch as the maker signs the will (but the witnesses do not need to read the will or know anything about what the will says)
- Certain special language should be in the will—such as language revoking prior wills and language with respect to the attestations
The need for certain special language is one key reason to retain experienced Maryland/DC family law and estate planning attorneys to help you draft and execute your will. Failure to satisfy the legal formalities and requirements could mean that a court deems the will to be invalid. To continue our example from above, if the will is deemed invalid, then the friend or nephew will not receive the automobile as a bequest.
The mental competency issue is very important and is one reason that two witnesses must attest the signing of the will. If the will is legally challenged on the basis of lack of mental competency, the attesting witnesses will be called to testify about that. But, mental competence is not too difficult to establish. All that is really required is that, at the time of signing, the maker of the will was mentally aware and lucid. Often, a few simple questions are asked at the will signing to establish mental capacity. Examples include:
- Where are we now?
- What are we doing now?
- What document are you signing?
- What is the date?
- Who are your family members?
- Who is the President?
- And similar
Maryland and DC Divorce and Family Law Attorneys
For more information, contact the seasoned and experienced Maryland and D.C. divorce, family law and estate planning attorneys at The Law Offices of Thomas Stahl. We have the experience and expertise you need. Schedule a consultation today or call us at (410) 696-4326 or (202) 964-7280.