Illinois Lawyer Referrals and Legal Guidance
How to Execute a Valid Will in Illinois
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A will is a legal document by which a person directs his or her estate/belongings to be distributed upon his or her death. To be valid in Illinois, the person making the will must understand what his assets are and that the will is giving them to other people upon his death. The will must also be signed by the person making it, as well as signed by two witnesses.
Both witnesses must sign in the presence of the person making the will. Specifically, the signing witnesses must sign while in the line of sight of the person making the will. However, the witnesses need not sign in each others' presence, nor do they need know they are witnessing a will. The witnesses and the person making the will can sign in any order, so long as there is no significant break in time between their signings.
The witnesses' requirement is merely a safeguard against any improper influence over the person making the will, as is the requirement that the person making the will truly understand what he is doing. To further serve this purpose, Illinois has additional requirements on who can sign as a witness to a will. Illinois Probate Law prohibits people who stand to benefit from the will (known as "interested witnesses") from witnessing the will. For example, anyone who is being left any property by the will, or even the person being appointed to execute the will should not witness the will. If they do, they risk losing what they stand to gain from the will's execution.
Please note that certain items, even if listed in your will, don't necessarily get transferred to your heirs just because it is listed in your will. For example, you could write in your will that you want your son to receive your life insurance proceeds; if your ex-wife is listed as the beneficiary on the insurance policy, they are going to get the proceeds no matter what your will says.
Obviously when you draft a will you want your wishes to be met. Whether it's making sure that your property goes to who you want to receive it or making sure that if you die that your children are in the custody of the person you choose, not the courts, it is important that your will is written correctly. It typically costs just a few hundred dollars to have a will written by an experienced Illinois estate planning attorney. Because of the technical nature of probate law and the harm that can be done by doing it wrong, we advise everyone to seek a lawyer for drafting a will. If you would like a referral to an attorney for drafting a will in Illinois, please contact us.