Legal-Ease: What elements make a valid will?

Many people will try to cut corners to try to save a few dollars. That could mean trying to paint your own house instead of hiring a professional painter, or maybe trying to do your own landscaping instead of hiring a professional landscaper.

I will admit I love to try to do things myself from time to time if I think it’s in my wheelhouse and if it means saving money, but when you grew up couponing and bargain hunting, it is hard not to try to save money from time to time.

You will not find me trying to do electrical work at my house or skipping out on a doctor’s visit when I have been sick for a while. I know that I too have limits, and sometimes I need to seek the assistance of professionals in their trade.

Knowing when to hire a professional and when to try to do something yourself is vital. Cutting corners can lead to more mistakes in the long run, and this can be seen quite frequently in transactional work when people try to make their own legal documents. People frequently will try to “write their own will,” and in doing so they tend to miss elements that under Ohio law are required for a will to be valid.

In Ohio, a will needs to be in writing, which can either be handwritten or typewritten. An exception to this element is if a will is considered an oral will, which has its own set of specific requirements. If a will is handwritten, the legal term for the will is a “holographic will.” Holographic wills are recognized in Ohio as long as they meet the rest of the elements for a valid will, but not all states recognize holographic wills.

Next the will must be signed by the person making the will, “the will maker.” The will maker is legally called the testator. However, this signature element does not require that the will maker/testator be the physical person signing the will. Ohio law allows for the will to be signed by another person at the will maker’s direction, so long as the signer is in the will maker’s conscious presence when signing.

You may wonder what does conscious presence mean? Conscious presence means within the senses of the testator. That essentially means in the physical presence of the will maker, as being “within the senses” through electronic communication the court has repeatedly held is insufficient. Thus, conscious presence does not include seeing or hearing a will maker sign over the telephone or video call.

Lastly, the will must be attested and signed by two or more competent witnesses in the conscious presence of the will maker/testator. In addition to being attested and signed by the witnesses, those witnesses must have seen the will maker/testator sign or heard the will maker/testator acknowledge the testator’s signature on the will.

Knowing when to hire a professional and when to try to do something yourself is vital, especially if you are trying to “make your own will” and don’t know the elements for making a valid will under Ohio law.

Nichole Y. Shafer is an Ohio-licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LTD in Putnam County. She limits her practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. She can be reached at [email protected] or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.