It's rare, but courts can toss out a will if it doesn’t meet certain requirements. Will challenges are very unusual -- by one estimate, about 99% of wills sail through probate without a hitch -- but they do happen. If a will doesn't fulfill certain legal requirements, or the maker of the will was not of age or sound mind, a would-be heir or beneficiary can challenge it in probate court after the will maker's death. There are several grounds on which someone who stands to benefit from getting the will thrown out can base a legal challenge.
Age It's almost never an issue, but the maker of the will must have been:
Fraud or Undue Influence A will can also be declared invalid if a court determines that it was procured by fraud, forgery, or "undue influence." This usually involves some evil-doer who occupies a position of trust -- for example, a caregiver or adult child -- manipulating a vulnerable person to leave all, or most, of his property to the manipulator.
Contents of the Will What makes a document a valid will? For starters, every state has rules about what a will must, at a minimum, contain. Most states require that the document:
Handwritten, unwitnessed wills are valid in about half the states. These "holographic" wills must be written and signed entirely in the handwriting of the person making the will. (Some states, but not all, require that they be dated.) Because there are no witnesses, holographic wills are more easily challenged than standard typewritten wills; the probate court must be satisfied that the document is actually in the deceased person's handwriting and was intended to serve as a will.
Notarization Wills don't have to be notarized to be valid. Some wills, however, include a "self-proving" affidavit (sworn statement) that the witnesses sign in front of a notary public, which means the witnesses don't later have to come to court to swear that the will is valid.
The Will Maker's Residence Generally, a will is valid in any state where the maker of the will died if it was valid under the laws of the state (or country) where the maker of the will was "domiciled" when the will was made. A person's domicile is the state the person considered his or her permanent home -- where a person's principal home was and where the person spent the most time, as opposed, say, to a summer home.
To make sure the will you write stands up in court, use Nolo's Online Willor Nolo's Quicken WillMaker Plussoftware. Both the online app and the software are customized to the laws in your state and provide detailed instructions for signing and storing your will.
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