New York law requires that a will be witnessed by two persons. Often, lawyers will have three witnesses. None of the witnesses should be a person who has an interest in the estate.
The execution of a will is a simple ceremony. What you can expect is to first meet with your lawyer and review your plan for what would happen to your assets after your passing.
One of the issues that will be discussed at that first meeting is whom you wish to serve as executor. It should be a person whom you trust. You can (but of course need not) ask your attorney to serve as executor. While two (or even more) persons can serve as executor, this is ordinarily not recommended.
The Actual Signing Of The Will
A second meeting is scheduled about a week later, at which you review the proposed will. If changes are needed, they often can be made immediately. The lawyer will invite into the office two or three persons who are going to witness the signing.
The lawyer will introduce you to the witnesses. Usually, there will some small talk while the attorney looks over the final version of the will. Actually, the purpose of the small talk is to embed in the witnesses' memories their interaction with the testator (the person who signs the will) and to allow them to form an impression as to whether the testator is competent to make a will.
The lawyer will then ask you if this is your will. You will look it over briefly and say that it is. The lawyer will reintroduce you to the witnesses and ask if you have requested that these persons serve as witnesses to your execution.
The testator, and then the witnesses, sign the will
Choosing A Safe Place To Keep The Will
The will, after having been signed, is then photocopied in its entirety.
A will should be kept in a safe place. Some people prefer for their lawyers to have their original will, as the lawyer will often have a fireproof safe and can be entrusted to securely maintain the will. If the lawyer keeps the original, the photocopy should be taken home by the testator, who should then attach a note to the photocopy indicating the location of the original will.
There is, of course, no requirement that the lawyer keep the original will, and where precisely to keep the document is the decision of the testator.
One place that is usually not a good place to keep a will is a safety deposit box because after the testator's death, there may be some complications with getting prompt access to the box.
Changing Your Will
After the will is executed and kept in a secure place, the testator cannot casually make changes to it. Do not attempt to handwrite any changes or to make typographical changes. These will not be effective and may invalidate the will.
If changes are needed, they can be done in either of two ways. Either a codicil (an amendment or supplement to the will), which keeps in place the original will except as to the specific areas addressed by the amendment) is drafted or an entirely new will is executed. In either case, the same formalities apply as to execution of a will, including the need to have at least two witnesses.
Some people try to save money by purchasing will-making kits. I do not recommend these. It is important, in my view, not only that an attorney draft the will, but, equally important, that an preside over the execution of the will.
Wills are almost always inexpensive (unless the testator is either very wealthy or has a very complicated plan for his or her assets).
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