Many people look to write their own wills to cover them in the event of their death. Although I do not recommend that people do that, as the process can be rather nuanced depending on your situation, the basics are very straightforward.

Under New Jersey law, there are three requirements to making a will. You must:

  • Be of age
  • Have testamentary intent.
  • Have testamentary capacity.

Age. You must be at least 18 years old to make a will. However, married minors and minors in the armed forces are entitled to do so.

Testamentary Intent. You must sign your will with testamentary intent. This means that you intend that the will should dispose of your property on your death. This intent is usually shown by the words of the will itself. For example, the following sentence conveys testamentary intent rather clearly:

"I, [name of testator], of [city], [county] County, [State], declare that this is my last will.""

Testamentary Capacity. You must be of sound mind or have “testamentary capacity,” to execute a valid will. Testamentary capacity means that you:

  • Understand you are making a will.
  • Understand the effect of the will.
  • Know the nature and extent of your property.
  • Know the people who would be the “natural objects of your bounty” (i.e., your family members and other loved ones).

This does not mean that you don’t have testamentary capacity if you are of advanced age. You need only possess capacity on the day the will is executed. Thus, a person may have testamentary capacity on some days and lack it on others. This situation is common with people in the early stages of dementia.

Witnessed. A will must be witnessed by at least two people who saw you sign it. Your will should also have attached to it a "Self Proving Affidavit," to avoid having to track down the witnesses when the will has to be probated. This additional step is often omitted by people writing their own wills and is a good example of the pitfalls that await those that try.

So What Should I Do?

I recommend that everyone have an estate plan. If you want more information about them, what documents are included, and things you need to think about to prepare them, then I recommend that you download my free book, A Guide to Creating Your Estate Plan. It will get you a long way towards achieving that goal.

But if you live in Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, Salem, or Cumberland counties, have decided that you need to put together an estate plan, and are ready to move forward to create one, then just click here to schedule a free, no obligation phone call to discuss it.

Steven J. Richardson
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Bankruptcy, Collections, Student Loan, DUI and Traffic Court attorney in Woodbury, NJ.