Do you need to know how to make a will in Texas? A testamentary will (also known as a last will and testament, or simply a will) is a legally binding document outlining how to distribute assets among beneficiaries after death. Wills must follow a set format outlined by current legal requirements. These legal requirements and rules vary by state, and the process of writing a will in Texas differs from other jurisdictions.
This guide walks you through a step-by-step process of making a will in Texas that aligns with current jurisdictional law. Keep reading for more information on why wills are important, the requirements for a valid will, and methods for making your legally binding will.
What Is a Will and Why Do You Need One?
Before we explain how to write a will in Texas, we must fully understand what we are referring to. A will can be a legally binding document that states whom you wish to receive your money, property, and other assets after death. You can also appoint a guardian for any dependents under the age of 18 in your will.
You can divide your assets between one or more beneficiaries of your choosing. The person writing the will is known as the testator, while the people you leave your assets to are known as beneficiaries. If you die without a will, state laws apply automatically, and you lose control over who receives your estate. Texas law divides all assets between immediate family members. Even a marital home is generally split between the deceased’s spouse and children rather than being left to just the spouse.
Many believe writing a Texas last will and testament is only necessary for those with a lot of money or property or those with complicated estates. However, everyone benefits from having a will, especially those with dependents, blended families, estranged family members, and other complex family relationships.
Below are some of the benefits having a will brings.
Requirements for a Valid Will in Texas
A valid will should meet the following requirements to be a legally binding document in Texas:
1. Your will must be in writing. Your will must exist in a physical form, such as being handwritten (known as a holographic will) or typed on a computer and printed. Merely saying your wishes to a loved one does not hold any legal force. Even digital files saved on your computer are invalid; always handwrite or type your will.
2. You must be of sound mind. Texas Estates Code Sec. 251.051 states that only “a person of sound mind has the right and power to make a will.” It means that you understand what a will is, know the implications of your will, and can make sound judgments. You have the legal capacity to enter into valid agreements. However, the statute goes on to discuss that this only applies to people who are:
- Age 18 or older;
- Currently or have previously been married; or
- Now or have once been a member of the military.
3. You must write your will freely. When writing a will in Texas, statutory law states that you must write it freely. In other words, no one else influences your decisions on how you should divide your assets and estate. It is often the case with friends and family members hoping to benefit from your assets after you die.
4. A minimum of two credible witnesses must sign your will. When making a will in Texas, a “credible witness” is anyone age 14 or older who can sign the legal document in their own handwriting and is not a beneficiary of your will. Holographic wills written entirely in your handwriting and signed by you are exempt from this requirement, but it is helpful to have witness signatures regardless.
How To Write a Will in Texas
Knowing how to write a living will in Texas is a skill beneficial to all residents. And thankfully, the process is relatively straightforward. Follow the steps below, and you’ll have your legally binding will written and executed in no time!
Drafting your will
The first step for writing a simple will in Texas is to draft the document. There are a few options for this. You can write your will yourself, use an online template, or hire an attorney to write your will. Which option you choose largely depends on your circumstances regarding timeframe and budget.
Hiring an attorney is the quickest and most stress-free option, but it costs the most. On the other hand, writing your own will takes longer, but it is a free option ideal for tighter budgets. We recommend registering a will yourself if you’re writing a simple will. Also, it is best to request law firms for assistance in complex estate cases.
Once you have chosen your method for writing a will in Texas, you need to take care of all other important decisions.
Your beneficiaries and assets division
Whom you name as your beneficiaries are down to you; it could be friends, family members, organizations, or nonprofit charities. You must decide how you want all your assets to be distributed, including current and fixed assets. Below are some common assets types worth considering:
- Property and real estate;
- Money and investment portfolios;
- Business ownership and acquisitions;
- Life insurance;
- Other physical possessions.
Guardians of children and pets
If you have children or pets, you must also choose their legal guardians after death. It is only applicable if your children are dependents under the age of 18.
Executor of your will
The executor is the person who works with the local courthouse to ensure your will follows your requests. They play a crucial role in estate planning, so your executor must be someone you can trust. Where there is no executor, the court will appoint one after death.
Once you have made all the above decisions, write the will yourself or pass this information on to your lawyer so they can draft the will on your behalf. Check if all the information is correct before moving on to the next step of how to make a will in Texas.
Executing your will
Next, it is time to execute your will. Executing your will is the technical term for signing it and making it legally valid. When writing a will in Texas, you must sign your will and have two credible witnesses to be legally binding. You don’t need a notary signature unless you want to make your will “self-proving” (more information on this is available below).
Therefore, executing a will requires you to do the following:
- Choose your witnesses and gather them together;
- Present your will to your witnesses (they do not need to read the contents);
- Initial each page of the document and ask your witnesses to do the same;
- On the final page, sign and date the paper under your printed name;
- Get both witnesses to print, sign, and date the final page.
It is worth noting that an executor has nothing to do with executing your will. This often confuses people since the words “executor” and “executing” are similar. However, your executor does not need to sign the will for it to be valid; your executor only steps into action after death.
Revoking or changing your will
Your will is a legally binding document. However, in Texas, you can revoke your will before your death. The only exception is where you have committed to an agreement stating that your will is irrevocable, such as joint wills. Assuming this doesn’t apply, there are two ways you can invalidate and revoke your will.
- Destroy the will you have written: As a will has to be in physical form (handwritten or printed), there should only be one copy, and so easy to destroy intentionally. You can destroy it in any way, such as burning, shredding, or throwing it away.
- Draft and execute a new will: When a person has more than one valid will, the most recent document takes priority, and the older version is invalidated. Follow these steps to make a living will in Texas and create a new one.
If you wish to make small changes to your will, a better option might be writing a codicil. This is a legal document that revises your original will. All the requirements apply when writing a codicil, so you must be of sound mind, have a physical copy of the document, have two witness signatures, and not be coerced into making the changes.
Your lawyer may advise against writing a codicil and recommend rewriting your entire will. Multiple documents can make it more challenging for the testator’s wishes to be carried out, and accidents can occur, especially when numerous revisions are made. Having one will is often a safer option.
Do You Need To Notarize Your Will in Texas?
When writing a will in Texas, you don’t have to notarize it to create a legally binding document. Your signature and the signature of your credible witnesses are enough to hold up in court. When the probate court handles your estate, the courts will contact the witnesses to confirm its validity.
However, a notary is a must if you want to make a “self-proving” will. Self-proving will bypass the need for the courts to contact your witnesses, helping to streamline the probate process. These wills contain self-proving affidavit statements that you, a witness, and a notary sign. The notary confirms your identity and witnesses, so your assets can be probated quickly.
Knowing how to write a living will in Texas is a beneficial skill for everyone. Although many assume wills are only crucial for people with large and complex estates, everyone should have control over their assets and who receives what after death.
As you have learned, the process of will writing doesn’t have to be complicated. Gather your assets, choose your beneficiaries, and write your will. You can do this by yourself or with the help of a legal professional. Be sure to execute your will to make it legally binding, and refer to this guide if and when you need to revoke or change your will in Texas.
Why Is Healthcare for Retirees and The Elderly So Expensive in the US? There are a number of factors that contribute to the high co...