Wills and Testament Law

What Are Wills and Testaments?

A Will, or Testament, sometimes referred to as a Last Will and Testament, is a legal document declaring a decedent's intentions for who should manage his or her estate after death, and to whom he or she wishes various assets to be given.


Any person over the age of majority and of “sound mind” (having the appropriate mental capacity to understand what they are doing) can prepare a will with or without an attorney. The person writing the will, also known as the “testator,” must clearly identify that he or she is the maker of the will and that it is his or her intention to actually create a will (usually accomplished by inclusion of the words “last will and testament” on the face of the document. If any previous wills have ever been created, the testator must expressly revoke them as well as any codicils (amendments to a will). Otherwise, the subsequent will only revokes the prior wills and codicils to the extent that they are inconsistent. The will must be signed and dated by the testator, and most jurisdictions also require the signatures of two disinterested witnesses and sometimes a notary.

Prohibited Provisions

A will cannot require an heir to commit an illegal, immoral, or other act against public policy as a condition of receiving an inheritance. Similarly, some states have laws against omitting certain beneficiaries from an estate, such as a surviving spouse. Children can be disinherited by a parent's will, except in Louisiana.

More Information

For more information about wills and and testaments, please review the materials provided below. Additionally, you can find an attorney who focuses their practice on Trusts and Estates law by visiting our Law Firms page and searching by your location.

Copyright HG.org

Know Your Rights!

Articles on HG.org Related to Wills and Testament Law

  • If Only...When "Fee Simple" May Not Be So Simple
    A potential client (who I will refer to as Ann) recently asked me to handle the closing on a property that she owned with her aunt, who had died two months earlier. Ann had already signed a contract to sell the property and was looking forward to a problem free closing.
  • Should Will be Done?
    In many ways, wills are difficult and frustrating. There are many hard decisions to be made in distributing an estate, and people generally prefer to put off those decisions because they inherently address the finite nature of our existence.
  • The Unexpected Heir
    Jeremy, who owns a home and two investment properties, told me he had remarried, and asked that we revise his will to provide for his new wife, Emily.
  • What is Surrogacy and the Legal Process Associated with It?
    Modern science has given infertile couples the opportunity to enjoy the fundamental right of parenting children. This has spawned a new area of the law that is challenging, complicated and fascinating to those of us who practice it.
  • How to Contest a Will or Trust
    Undertaking legal action to contest a will or trust is a step most of us will never have to take. However, if you suspect that your loved one's will is not what he or she intended, there are several things that you can do legally to correct the situation.
  • Estate Planning for Pets and Domesticated Animals
    Companionship animals play an important role in the lives of humans. Nevertheless, more than 500,000 pets are euthanized in animal shelters throughout the United States annually because of the death or disability of the owner. How can pet owners prevent such a disaster from occurring? In this article, attorney John Martin explores three ways to provide for financial support and care for your pet when you no longer can.
  • Geriatric Consultant can Help Families as Parents Age
    As the population ages and particularly our parents age, it is appropriate and helpful to use the services of a geriatric consultant. A number of companies offer a large variety of services depending on your family's needs. These firms are part patient advocate and part mediators with the family when required.
  • Is your Home a Good Safety Net for you when you Are Older?
    Since we are all living longer than medical science may have predicted when we were young, many times the principal assets an older person may have will be his or her home. Since most elderly people want to stay in their homes for the rest of their lives, if their physical health allows, many are faced with a tough choice: either sell the home and move to an apartment or assisted-care facility, or make use of a reverse mortgage.
  • A Quick Guide to the Illinois Dead Man's Act
    According to the hornbook definition, the Act is an evidentiary rule barring testimony by someone with an interest in litigation about any conversation with or event occurring in the presence of a decedent. But what does that mean? This article offers some answers.
  • All Estate Planning Law Articles

    Articles written by attorneys and experts worldwide discussing legal aspects related to Estate Planning including: estate and trust, inheritance law, personal property, probate, wills.

Wills, Estate and Probate Law by State

Wills and Testament Law - US

  • ABA - Wills and Estates Division

    Planning your estate is about caring for your loved ones, seeing they are provided for, and making sure your hard-earned property is distributed according to your wishes. Your estate consists of all your property, including: * your home and other real estate * tangible personal property such as cars and furniture, and * intangible property like insurance, bank accounts, stocks, and pension and social security benefits.

  • Uniform Simultaneous Death Act - Wikipedia

    This Act provides that any persons who die within 120 hours of each other, by law, predecease each other. This rule keeps the property of one deceased person from passing through the estate of another deceased person before passing to those who survive both.

  • United States Uniform Probate Code

    The 1991 Uniform Probate Code (UPC 1991) is a nationally recommended and up-to-date model for the improvement of state law relating to the succession of property at an owner's death, as controlled by will, intestacy statute, and the probate process. The UPC has long been applauded for its reform provisions, which are designed to shorten and simplify the probate of estates. Aspects of nonprobate transfers on death are also covered in the UPC, as are guardianships and other protective arrangements for minors and incapacitated adults. The UPC aims to make laws more uniform among the states, and promotes a speedy and efficient system for estate administration.

  • Will and Testament Law - Overview

    The purpose of a will is to permit the living to provide for those who come after him or her. By "willing" their estates, individuals can control the way their property is distributed after their deaths. If an individual dies without a will and without heirs or relatives, however, the estate escheats to the state. A will is thus a way to keep the estate in the hands of family and/or loved ones, and out of the hands of the state.

  • Will and Testament Law - Wikipedia

    A will or testament is a legal declaration by which a person, the testator, names one or more persons to manage his estate and provides for the transfer of his property at death. For the devolution of property not disposed of by will, see inheritance and intestacy. In the strictest sense, a "will" has historically been limited to real property, while "testament" applies only to dispositions of personal property, though this distinction is seldom observed today. A will may also create a testamentary trust that is effective only after the death of the testator

Wills and Testament Law - Europe

  • EU Green Paper: Successions and Wills

    With this Green Paper, the Commission is launching a public consultation exercise in order to address the practical problems encountered by individuals in connection with succession and wills. The difficulties facing those involved in a transnational succession mostly flow from divergences in the substantive rules, the procedural rules and the conflict rules applicable in the Member States. The mobility of individuals within the European Union (EU) and the increasing number of marriages between nationals of the different Member States also influence matters relating to succession and wills.

  • Wills Act 1968 - UK

    For the purposes of section 15 of the M1Wills Act 1837 (avoidance of gifts to attesting witnesses and their spouses) the attestation of a will by a person to whom or to whose spouse there is given or made any such disposition as is described in that section shall be disregarded if the will is duly executed without his attestation and without that of any other such person. (2)This section applies to the will of any person dying after the passing of this Act, whether executed before or after the passing of this Act.

Wills and Testament Law - International

  • Canadian Law - Wills

    When a person dies without a will, all of that person's property is distributed according to a formula fixed by law. Without a will, legal costs are increased. It can also lead to hard feelings. Finally you will have no say as to who will look after your affairs after you have gone.

  • International Wills Act

    An Act respecting international wills and testaments.

Organizations Related to Wills and Testament Law

  • American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys

    The American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys is an exclusive, membership organization that serves the needs of estate planning attorneys and law firms nationwide. Since 1993, we have been dedicated to promoting excellence in estate planning by providing our attorneys with comprehensive document creation software, up-to-date research on estate and tax planning matters and exceptional educational training materials.

  • Living Trust Network - Last Wills and Testaments

    If you want to know more about a Last Will and Testament, you've come to the right place.

  • National Association of Estate Planners and Councils (NAEPC)

    The National Association of Estate Planners & Councils (NAEPC) is a national organization of professional estate planners and affiliated Estate Planning Councils focused on establishing and monitoring the highest professional and educational standards. NAEPC fosters public awareness of the quality services rendered by professionals who meet these standards. NAEPC builds a team approach involving cross-professional disciplines to better serve the public’s need in estate planning.

  • National Institute of Certified Estate Planners (NICEP)

    ur mission is to educate, promote, and support financial, legal, and tax professionals who understand the needs of estate planning, enabling them to work together as a team to bring to every client a custom tailored estate plan which is designed to preserve, protect, and pass on that individual's estate to whom they want, when they want, and how they want, and that also gives that client the peace of mind that comes from knowing their estate will be managed during their lifetime as they have directed even should they become incapacitated. We believe every American adult should have an estate plan that allows these goals to be accomplished in the most efficient manner available under the law, and that minimizes costs both now and in the future.

Publications Related to Wills and Testament Law

  • ABA - Frequently Asked Quesion (FAQ) - Wills

    Answers provided by the ABA to FAQs regarding estate planning, wills and trusts.

  • Types of Wills

    There are several different types of wills that are recognized as legal and binding in probate.

  • Writing a Will

    People at all economic levels benefit from an estate plan. Upon death, an estate plan legally protects and distributes property based on your wishes and the needs of your family and/or survivors with as little tax as possible.

Find a Lawyer

Find a Local Lawyer