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A Last Will and Testament is one of the most important legal documents a person can create during his or her lifetime. If a person dies without a Will they are said to have died “intestate” and state laws will determine how and to whom the person’s assets will be distributed.
If a person dies without a Will the beneficiaries can not dispute the court’s distribution of that person’s estate under the intestacy laws. Even if that person expressed different wishes verbally during their lifetime the statutes control the distribution. With a valid Will, a person can legally determine how their property will be distributed… and to whom.
A Will must meet the legal requirements set forth by the state in order for it to be valid. Most states will also accept a Will that was executed in another state if the document is a valid Will under that state’s law. The general requirements for a valid Will are usually as follows: (a) the document must be written (meaning typed or printed), (b) signed by the person making the Will (usually called the “testator” or “testatrix”, and (c) signed by two witnesses who were present to witness the execution of the document by the maker and who also witnessed each other sign the document.
In Connecticut, the laws regarding the valid execution and witnessing of a Will are set forth in General Statutes of Connecticut, Title 45a Probate Courts and Procedure; Chapter 802a Wills: Execution and Construction, Sections 45a-250 through 45a-285.
In Connecticut, any person eighteen (18) or more years of age who is of sound mind may make a Will. (See: Section 45a-250) “Sound mind” generally means someone who has not been deemed incompetent in a prior legal proceeding.
A Will must be in writing, signed by the testator and by two witnesses. Each witness must sign the Will in the testator’s presence. (See: Section 45a-251)
Generally, it is recommended that the witnesses to the Will be “disinterested”, which means that they are not beneficiaries of the Will. In Connecticut a Will is not made invalid if it is witnessed by an interested witness. However, any gift to an interested witness, or their spouse, is void, unless the Will may be legally attested without the witness’s signature, or if the witness is an heir of the testator. Gifts to an organization of which the witness is a member of are not made invalid. (See: Section 45a-258)
If a Will’s authenticity is unchallenged it may be probated in a simplified procedure if it has been self-proven. Witnesses to a self-proven Will are not required to testify in court because the court automatically accepts a self-proven Will as authentic. To self-prove a Will the testator may request the witnesses swear in an affidavit before a notary to the authenticity of the Will. It may also be done after the testator’s death at the request of the executor of the estate. The affidavit should be part of the Will or attached to it. (See: Section 45a-285)
Hopefully these guidelines have helped make your estate planning decisions easier. For information regarding your specific circumstances you should contact an local wills attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.