You may write your own will in any U.S. state as long as you meet the state's requirements for those who write wills. You do not have to be a lawyer to write a will. However, consulting an attorney before writing your will or having an attorney write your will for you may be helpful, especially if you have a large estate, minor children or any questions about the process.
Most U.S. states only have a few basic requirements for a person to write his own valid will. Usually, a testator, or person who makes a will, must be at least 18 years old and of sound mind. Being of sound mind usually only means that you understand that you are writing your will and what your will does. Some states allow people younger than 18 to write a will if they are serving in the armed forces when they make their wills.
Provisions for Minor Children
If you have minor children, you may want to provide for them in your will. Although you can include your own minor children when you write your will, an attorney can help you with advice on how best to arrange matters for your own particular children. For instance, an attorney can help you set up a trust or life insurance policy to help pay for your children's future needs if you die. An attorney can also help you decide who should be named as guardian for your children.
If you have a significant amount of assets, it may be difficult for you to remember to include all of them in your will. Also, some assets pass outside of probate and should not be included in your will, as they transfer directly to your beneficiaries on your death. These assets, which include things like life insurance policies and joint bank accounts, are called non-probate assets and should not be listed in your will. Finally, the tax consequences of passing a large estate to your beneficiaries via a will may be onerous. You may wish to consult a lawyer as well as an accountant or other financial professional for advice if you have a large estate and wish to write your own will.
Preventing a Will Contest
For some people, preventing beneficiaries from fighting over the estate after death is an important issue. Your will can help prevent your beneficiaries from filing lawsuits to contest your will by including a no-contest clause. This clause usually states that any beneficiary who challenges the will must give up his entire share of the estate if he loses. In addition, some states have specific rules for whether and how you can leave a child out of your will entirely. An attorney who practices estate law in your state can help you figure out how to write your will so that the beneficiaries you choose get what you leave them with as little fighting as possible.