Updated: Apr 23, 2019
You can write an enforceable will without hiring a professional. To write a valid will in Ohio you must be at least 18 years old, legally competent, the will must be in writing, signed at the end by yourself and 2 disinterested witnesses (not receiving a gift from the will), and you must actually intend to make the transfers of assets listed in your will.
The Witness Problem
The biggest threat to self-written wills is the witness requirement. If you write a will for yourself and save it in your filing cabinet or on your computer without taking further action, your will is not enforceable. This is what's known as a "holographic will" and is enforceable in some states, but not Ohio. You must find two witnesses to sign your will. The witnesses can be anybody meeting the requirements of disinterest and competency (no age requirement for witnesses), and do not have to actually see you sign your name to the will. However, you do have to identify yourself, state that the document is your will, identify the signature and claim it as your own. At that point, the witnesses sign the will and it becomes enforceable.
Just Once isn't Enough
This note is especially important when it comes to creating a new will or amending your existing will because you have to satisfy the requirements again. If you have something to change about your existing will or have new assets that need to be addressed, you'll want to make a new will or amend your existing will. Why is this important? Because throughout your life your will and your assets are likely to misalign. Whether it’s the car you gifted to your son that was totaled, or the new house you bought that is not given to anyone in your will, your assets will change and your will can be inaccurate. This causes one of two problems.
First, the recipients of your gifts won't receive what you wanted them to. If a gift made under will is no longer part of your estate, the recipient loses the gift. That gift is not replaced with other gifts or money value, so the recipient is out of luck. If you portioned out your assets and that person's portion is given through the value of specific property, that person will not get the portion you intended to give.
Second, a change in assets will affect the "residue" of your estate. Residue is a catch-all term for the remainder of your estate that is not being given by other means under the will. When you acquire more assets and do not reflect that change in your will, the person receiving the residue will receive the new assets. This will lead to the residue recipient receiving a greater portion of your estate than you may have anticipated. If you do not have a residue recipient, or if the residue recipient dies before you, intestacy will decide where the new assets will go and that could lead to any of the issues discussed previously. Remember, you're writing a will to avoid intestacy distribution, and to continue avoiding intestacy you may have to update your will.
How to Get Started
There are many templates available online, which are a good place to start. Some templates are free, but provide no information about how a will works or how to fill out the template. You can also purchase a template that walks you through the process of filling it out. Unfortunately, these are one-time purchases and you will have to purchase another template to create a new will or amend the previous one. To make things simple, we have put together a package that includes an informational guide about how Ohio wills work, a template for writing your own will, a template for writing your own codicil (amendment to a will), and instructions to help you fill out each template. This is everything you need to write your own will and keep it up to date all in one place. If you would like more information, click here, or contact me. Regardless of how you choose to proceed, remember to keeps those wills up to date and don't forget the signatures.