How to Create Last Wills

by Carrie Ferland

Many still neglect the one document that is, arguably, the most important of their lifetime: their last will and testament. Whether they feel it is not important, or they fear they cannot afford to draft one, too many decedents pass away without leaving behind any instructions. In fact, you can create your own will with little out-of-pocket expense, either by yourself or with the assistance of a legal professional, and save your loved ones the stress and confusion of intestacy probate.

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Step 1

Contact the clerk of your local probate court and ask for a preprinted form. Some states offer simple fill-in-the-blank forms for individual testators with basic estates. Your local probate court may charge a small fee, but many courts offer these forms free to the general public. Even if your state doesn’t have forms available to the public, the clerk should be able to help you locate a retailer who does.

Step 2

Use an online template to create your will. Many online retailers offer state-specific estate planning templates for a nominal fee, which you can download and use to draft your own will. Some websites also offer free basic templates, but these templates may not be crafted to your residential state’s requirements, so be careful when using noncommercial forms you find online.

Step 3

Purchase will-maker software and create your will on your home computer. Like tax preparation software, will-maker software automatically generates a will tailored to your personal needs based on your answers to the program’s questions. More advanced software gives you greater control over the final document while ensuring your will adheres to all applicable state requirements. You can save money by purchasing an out-of-date version, but do not buy software more than a year old or you risk creating an outdated will that won’t hold up in probate.

Step 4

Use an online will-maker service to create your will without purchasing software. Online will-maker services are very similar to will-maker software but carry a smaller sticker price. Online services typically charge a small one-time fee, ranging anywhere from $1 to $20, depending on the complexity of your estate. Some will-maker services also offer a free basic will creation tool for testators with simple estates.

Step 5

Pick up a self-help book for easy, thorough instructions on how to create a will. Dozens of estate planning books are available from major well-known brands in the legal industry, many which come packaged with blank preprinted forms you can use as a guide. Look for books tailored to your residential state’s specific laws for more state-specific information. Your local library may have books you can use in lieu of purchasing one from a retailer -- just be sure to use the most recent edition available, as probate laws may change from year to year.

Step 6

Retain an estate law attorney to draft your will for you. While this is typically the most expensive option, hiring an attorney isn’t necessarily unaffordable: a seasoned attorney can draft a simple will for around $150 to $300, up to $1,000 for very complicated and abounding estates. Some attorneys offer future minor revisions free, ensuring your will is always up-to-date without requiring a complete -- and costly -- overhaul. The end result is a little more money up front, but the assurance that your will can survive probate intact and represent your final wishes in the best way possible.