How to Make a Will Early

by Teo Spengler
Form wills are available in many places.

Form wills are available in many places.

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Fewer than half of Americans have executed wills, notes the American Bar Association. Many plan to make a will at some point in the future, but timing a will is as predictable as timing the stock market, so you may not get the chance to make a will if you wait. Making a will early is relatively easy, with form wills available online, in stationary stores and from the court system. Make sure to use a form will that's valid in your state.

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Step 1

Select a form will. California terms this a "statutory will" -- a complete fill-in will you copy from the probate code. Alternatively, look for a form approved by the Bar Association in your state; these are often available in your local law library or probate court. A good form will does your research for you, and contains language and affirmations mandated in your state, as well as signature spaces for the number of witnesses your jurisdiction requires.

Step 2

Read the early paragraphs of the form will. They contain affirmations about your competence for making a will -- that you are of age and of sound mind. If you are under 18 years old, check with the law librarian or probate clerk to find out your state's age requirement. "Of sound mind" simply means that you are as capable of reasoning as an average person. Fill in your personal information in the blanks, using your full name, date of birth and place of residence.

Step 3

Decide on your heirs and the property you intend to leave them. Identify each heir by full name and address, and describe the property unambiguously. Use account numbers, real estate parcel numbers and license plate numbers when appropriate. If an item does not have a number, describe it as precisely as you can. Don't write "my ring," for example, but rather "the four carat diamond that was my grandmother's wedding ring." Precision now will prevent problems later.

Step 4

Select a trusted person to serve as executor of your estate. She will take charge of your affairs when you die, file for probate, collect and inventory assets, pay debts and distribute property. Ask the person before writing her into your will to be sure she accepts the appointment. Select a guardian for your minor children. Add a separate financial guardian to care for their property until they reach majority. Banks often perform this function.

Step 5

Sign the will according to your state's rules. As of 2010, all but one state -- Louisiana -- require at least two witnesses to affirm your signature. Choose adults who are not otherwise named in your will. Tell the witnesses that the document you are signing is your last will and testament. Sign it before them, and have them sign as well. Notarizing your will is not required and cannot take the place of witnesses, since witnesses testify not only that you signed the document, but also that you knew it was your will. The one exception is Louisiana, which allows you to have one witness as long as the will is notarized.