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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 Vermont, the laws regarding the valid execution and witnessing of a Will are set forth in the Vermont Statutes, Title 14 Decedents’ Estates and Fiduciary Relations, Chapter 1 Wills, Sections 1 through 10.
In Vermont, any person eighteen (18) year of age and of sound mind may make a Will. (See: Section 1) “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 credible witnesses. If the testator cannot physically sign his name he may direct another party to do so. Each witness must sign the Will in the testator’s presence. (See: Section 5)
Generally, it is recommended that the witnesses to the Will be “disinterested”, which means that they are not a beneficiary of the Will. In Vermont, unless the witness is an heir of the testator, the signing of a Will by an interested witness does not invalidate the Will but any gift to the witness is void. (See: Section 10)
The Vermont statute do not provide for self-proving a will.
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.