This section is from the book "Hill's Manual Of Social And Business Forms: A Guide To Correct Writing", by Thos. E. Hill. Also available from Amazon: Hill's Manual Of Social And Business Forms: The How-To-Do-Everything Book Of Victorian America.
No exact form of words is necessary in order to make a will good at law; though much care should be exercised to state the provisions of the will so plainly that its language may not be misunderstood.
The person making the will is termed the testator (if a female, testatrix).
A will is of no force and effect until the death of the testator, and can be cancelled or modified at any date by the maker.
The last will made annuls the force of all preceding wills, if not an addition to them.
The law regards marriage, and offspring resulting, as good evidence of revocation of a will made prior to such marriage, unless the wife and children are provided for by the husband in some other manner, in which case the will remains in full force.
To convey real estate by will, it must be done in accordance with the law of the State or country where such land is located; but personal property is conveyed in harmony with the law that obtains at the place of the testator's residence.
There are two kinds of wills, namely, written and verbal, or nuncupative. The latter, or spoken wills, depending upon proof of persons hearing the same, generally relate to personal property only, and are not recognized in all the States, unless made within ten days previous to the death, or by persons in the military or naval service. Verbal or unwritten wills are usually unsafe, and, even when well authenticated, often make expensive litigation; hence the necessity of having the wishes of the testator fully and clearly defined in a written will.
To give or make a devise of property by will and subsequently dispose of the same, without altering the will to conform to such sale, destroys the validity of the devise.
A will made by an unmarried woman is legally revoked by marriage; but she can take such legal steps in the settlement of her property before marriage as will empower her to dispose of the same as she may choose, after marriage.
No husband can make a will that will deprive the wife of her right of dower in the property; that is, her right to the proceeds of one-third of the real estate and appurtenances, as long as she may live. But the husband can will the wife a certain amount in lieu of her dower, stating it to be in lieu thereof. Such bequest, however, will not exclude her from her dower, provided she prefers it to the bequest made in the will. Unless the husband states distinctly that the bequest is in lieu of dower, she is entitled to both.
Property bequeathed must pay debts and incumbrances upon the same before its distribution can be made to the legatees of the estate.
Though property may be willed to a corporation, the corporation cannot accept such gift unless provision is made for so doing in its charter.
The person making a will may appoint his executors, but no person can serve as such executor if, at the time of the proving of the will, he be under twenty-one years of age, a convict, a thoroughly confirmed drunkard, a lunatic, or an imbecile. No person appointed as an executor is obliged to serve, but may renounce his appointment by legal written notice signed before two witnesses, which notice must be recorded by the officer before whom the will is proved.
The person named in the will by the testator to administer the same is termed an executor. The individual appointed by a court is known as an administrator. The duties of each, in the settlement of an estate, are essentially the same.
In case a married woman possesses property, and dies without a will, her husband is entitled to administer upon such property in preference to any one else, provided he be of sound mind.
Any devise of property made to a subscribing witness is invalid, although the integrity of the will in other respects is not affected.
In all wills the testator's full name should be written at the end of the will. If he be unable to write, he may have his hand guided in making a mark against the same. If he possesses a sound mind, and is conscious at the time of the import of his action, such mark renders the will valid.
Witnesses should always write their respective places of residence after their names, their signatures being written in the presence of each other, and in the presence of the testator.
Different States require a different number of witnesses. To illustrate: Missouri, Illinois, Ohio. Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Iowa,
Utah, Texas, California, New Jersey, Delaware, Indiana, Virginia,Oregon, Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Rhode Island, Louisiana and New York require two witnesses.
The States of Florida, Mississippi, Maryland, Georgia, South Carolina, Massachusetts Con-necticut, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont demand three witnesses to authenticate a will.
Witnesses are not required to know the contents of a will. They have simply to know that the document is a will, and witness the signing of the same by the testator, or he to witness their signing.
Proof of signature of the testator by the oath of two reputable witnesses, is sufficient to establish the validity of a will in the State of Pennsylvania; no subscribing witnesses being absolutely demanded.