How Can I Do My Own Will?

by Teo Spengler
Some states permit unwitnessed holographic wills in your own hand.

Some states permit unwitnessed holographic wills in your own hand.

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Less than half of American adults have wills. One reason for this low figure might be the common perception that wills are complicated and expensive to prepare. Although large and complex estates may require estate-planning services and legal advice, many people with smaller holdings use simple testaments. All jurisdictions accept self-drafted testaments that meet probate requirements. Some states -- such as California -- make it easy for people to draft their own wills by providing a valid form will in the statutes and allowing handwritten wills.

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Step 1

Obtain a good form will, valid in your state. Ask your local law librarian whether your state has a statutory will and, if so, use that as your form will. Alternatively, look for a will form prepared by the state bar association or provided by the probate court. As a last resort, buy a form will from a reputable legal provider.

Step 2

Fill in the initial blanks with your identifying information: name, date of birth and address. The early paragraphs specify that the testator -- you -- fulfills the age requirement in your state. Most but not all states require that a testator be 18. If you are under 18 years old, confirm that you are old enough to make a will in your state.

Step 3

Turn to the bequest section. Bequests are the core provisions of a will, specifying which heirs get what property. If you intend to list numerous heirs, be certain to identify each carefully, by full name and address; describe the property precisely as well. Give identifying numbers when appropriate; for example, use automobile license plate numbers to bequeath a vehicle and bank account numbers to reference a checking account. Do not feel obligated to include numerous heirs. It is equally valid to leave everything to one person. In that case, property identification becomes less important.

Step 4

Select the person to serve as guardian of your minor children. Insert her name and identifying information in the appropriate blank in the will. Consider appointing a separate financial guardian to supervise your children's financial affairs. Check the individual first to make sure she will accept the appointment.

Step 5

Name an executor for your will. The executor takes charge of your estate, gathering assets, paying bills and distributing the property according to the terms of your will. Confirm that the individual will accept the appointment.

Step 6

Execute your will according to state law. All states require that at least two adults witness a form will. Select witnesses who are not named in your will. Attest in the presence of the witnesses that the document you are signing is your last will and testament; then sign it while the witnesses watch. Each witness must sign the will in the appropriate blank below your signature. Insert the addresses and phone numbers of the witnesses below their signatures in case the probate court requires their testimony.