What is a Valid Last Will?

Posted by Sheri Tucker, M.S., J.D.Jan 19, 20220 Comments

Your Last Will and Testament is a basic part of your estate plan that tells the Court how you want your property to be given and who should receive your assets after your death. To do the job, it needs to be a valid legal document.  Too often, people try to write a Last Will and Testament themselves, which often poses problems or results in unintended consequences. What is legally required to be a valid Last Will? How do you protect your document from forgeries?

What is a Valid Last Will and Testament?

A Valid Last Will and Testament in Missouri is signed and notarized in front of two witnesses in person.  Laws vary across states. Other states may require only one witness.  However, it is best to have two witnesses on your Last Will.  Why?  We are a mobile society and people do not stay in one place for very long.  If there is one witness and a person moves to a state requiring two witnesses, that may cause that last will to be rejected by that state's probate court at death. Also, what if the one witness dies, and the Will is not self-proving?  The Last Will and Testament could be rejected.

The Self-Proving Affidavit

What is meant by a self-proving affidavit?  A self-proving Last Will and Testament is a document that a Notary signs and stamps with a seal. The self-proving affidavit states that the witnesses are who they purport to be and that they signed in the presence of the Testator/Testatrix. The Affidavit states that they witnessed the signature of the Testator/Testatrix who also proves his/her identity to them and the Notary. 

The Commission's Request

What happens if there is not a self-proving affidavit?  If a will is not self-proving, then the Probate Court issues a Commissions Request to the witnesses to sign an oath about the Will and signatures.  A Commission Request delays the acceptance of the Last Will and Testament.  However, it's necessary to make sure it is a legal document. Once the witnesses swear an oath that is notarized, the Court then decides to accept or reject the Last Will and Testament.

Why do I Initial Every Page?

It's best practice to sign or at least initial every page of the original Last Will and Testament.  It is difficult to forge an electronic copy of a Will when there is a blue ink signature or initials on a page.  In addition, every page is identifiable as an authentic original Last Will.  Of course, people are always trying to figure out a way to substitute pages. However, signing or initializing pages makes it difficult to make changes to an original document.  In addition, the notary page and signature protect an electronic copy from being easily changed.

Electronic Copies of a Will

Scanned copies converted to readable print will change the signature and notary signature into symbols.  It is best to encrypt, or password protect electronic copies of your last will and testament. Protecting a conformed electronic copy of your will keeps others from editing the Last Will, printing it out, and then trying to pass it off as your Last Will and Testament.

What's Wrong with Multiple Copies?

When a person keeps multiple copies of his/her Last Will and Testament, it causes problems.  First, people update their Last Wills.  Keeping multiple copies around means people may not have the latest Last Will to file in Probate Court on your estate's behalf.  It's best to limit the number of copies to your attorney, yourself, and maybe your personal representative. When a person updates an estate plan, old copies need to be destroyed.  Second, it's easy for people to lose track of who has a copy of his/her estate plan.  The more copies out there, the more problems may occur. 

The Poorly Written Will

Of course, many problems arise when people write their own Last Will and Testament.  The DIY estate plan is problematic. In a follow-up blog, I'll look at different issues that may happen.

Your Estate Planning Attorney

 Don't leave your estate plan up to chance.  To make sure your document spells out exactly what you want it to say and do, contact me for a complimentary consultation. Call me at 314-332-0011 or Book now for your complimentary consultation.