What are the basic requirements to execute a valid will in New York?

New York statutes set out specific requirements that must be observed to execute a valid will.

The will is the most basic and universally known legal document with the power to vest ownership of the writer’s real estate and personal property at his or her death in the people or organizations of choice. It is very important, however, that anyone who wants to write and execute a valid will do so in compliance with the applicable state law for confidence that its terms will be carried out after the testator, the person writing the will, has died.

New York statute requires that the testator be at least 18 years old and of “sound mind and memory.” The will must be in writing and both signed and witnessed in accord with legal requirements:

  • Signing: Either the testator must sign the will him or herself or another person must sign in the testator’s name as directed by the testator in the testator’s presence. A person signing for the testator in this way must also sign the will and provide his or her address (although leaving the address off will not invalidate the instrument).
  • Witnessing: At least two people must witness the signature, either when the testator signs the will or through an acknowledgement of the maker to each witness that the signature is the testator’s. The witnesses sign their names on the will within 30 days of each other, along with their addresses (although omitting the address does not invalidate the will).
  • Declaration: Some time during the will’s execution and attestation the testator must tell each witness that the document the testator signed is indeed his or her will.

Regarding the requirement that the will maker be of sound mind and memory, also referred to as having testamentary capacity, a New York testator’s mental capacity and memory does not have to be perfect. He or she can even suffer from a condition that could limit those powers like dementia and still be of sound enough mind to execute a valid will if he or she understands generally three things:

  • The nature of the property he or she owns
  • The natural objects of his or her bounty, meaning the people are who the testator would normally leave property to, usually closest relatives
  • The property disposition being made

New York statute also provides for the making of valid oral (nuncupative) or handwritten (holographic) wills in very limited circumstances.

This introduces the basic requirements of a valid will execution in New York. In addition, it is possible to challenge the validity of a will in court in a lawsuit called a will contest for reasons such as fraud, forgery or undue influence.

Any New Yorker with questions about wills or other estate planning documents should seek the representation of an experienced estate planning attorney for advice and direction.

The lawyers at Connors and Sullivan Attorneys at Law, PLLC, in New York City, represent clients throughout the five boroughs in all matters of estate planning.