Ensuring Your Will is Valid

Question # 1: Do I need a Will?

Answer: If you would like to ensure your estate (all money and property in your possession) will be distributed to certain people in a certain way, then yes, you need a Will. You can also designate a guardian for any minor children or other adults in care.

Question #2: What happens if I don’t have a Will?

Answer: Well, it can depend on the size of your estate and the complexity of your affairs (see more here). In general, in the state of Ohio, if you die intestate (without a Will), the court will appoint someone to oversee the distribution of your property. Your estate will then be distributed to your next of kin, following the provisions laid out in chapter 21 of the Ohio Revised Code.

Question #3: Can’t I just write “I, Jane Smith, being of sound mind, do hereby leave all of my belongings to my neighbor, Patricia Johnson” and then sign it and leave it at that?

Answer: For a Will to be considered valid, it must meet the statutory requirements of ORC 2107. Namely, you must be over the age of 18, you must be mentally capable of writing and understanding your Will and it must be witnessed by 2 disinterested individuals who are also over the age of 18 (see more here. So if you are leaving your entire estate to your neighbor Patricia, Patricia cannot be one of the witnesses of the Will.

If a Will does not meet those requirements, it can be ruled invalid and your estate will go to your next of kin, following the provisions of chapter 2105 of the ORC (above).

Question #4: But I trust the person who will inherit my property to distribute it according to my wishes. Do I really need a Will?

Answer: With a Will, you name an Executor who will report to the Court. The Court oversees the process of handling your Estate and following your wishes.   The Executor has to answer to the Court if they don't follow your wishes, and there is legal recourse for those who may be affected.

Question #5: Do I need an attorney to draft a Will for me?

Answer: Ohio law allows you to write your own will, as long as it meets all the requirements. If your estate is very complicated, it may be wise to have an attorney draft a document for you and the Cincinnati Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service can help you find someone.

Question #6: Are there forms available that I can just fill in?

Answer: There are countless resources on the web and in books to help you draft a Will. Some offer free forms (see the list below) and some charge a fee. Many of the fee-based services like Legal Zoom also offer an attorney review of your legal document for an extra flat fee to ensure the document is crafted in accordance with the law.

Question #7: How do I know if the form I am using is valid and meets the requirements of the Ohio Revised Code?

Answer: There are several things you should look for when choosing a Will form.

If you are getting the document from a book:

  • Make sure the publisher is trustworthy. There are several publishers whose material can be trusted without the need for further research: Baldwin’s, Anderson’s, NOLO and materials published by the American Bar Association, for example. Do a little research to see if they look legit. A good test is to see if the Law Library  carries any of their books. If you’ve never heard of the publisher, you might not want to trust them.
  • Is the book recent? Laws and requirements can change very quickly. A quick internet search of the book should tell you if there is a more recent edition. If the book is from the library (most libraries will have books to help you draft a Will), the librarian should be able to tell you if the book is the most recent edition.
  • Is the book state specific? Every state has different rules about what makes a Will valid. To ensure your Will meets all the requirements, it’s best to use a form created specifically for the state of Ohio.

I know that using an online form can feel risky since there are so many scams on the internet these days, but here are some trustworthy websites that provide forms for free.

  • The Clermont County Public Library has a database called NuWav. You need a library card to access it (anyone in the state of Ohio can get an ecard for CCPL without having to step foot in a branch) but you can feel confident that the form for the state of Ohio meets Ohio requirements.
  • ProSeniors
  • The Law Library also has many books and other electronic resources to help you draft your own Will. They are not as user-friendly as the two resources listed above, but they might be a good option if you need something more robust. You can find more information here.

Also, check out the Probate Court’s website for more info.