How to Make Your Own Will

by Teo Spengler
Consider estate lawyers for large holdings.

Consider estate lawyers for large holdings.

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Many people procrastinate making wills because of discomfort with the idea of death, but a well-conceived will brings peace of mind. With a will, you decide who gets your property; the state does not divide your estate according to the general intestate laws. Good testamentary planning can also produce tax benefits for your estate but may require legal advice. Precise procedural requirements for last testaments vary between jurisdictions, but most states accept a written will signed before two impartial witnesses.

Step 1

List the people or organizations most important in your life, and select your heirs. Consider whether to leave all your assets to one heir, or to divide the property among heirs. A few states forbid disinheriting minor children, so if you have minor children you wish to disinherit, research your state law on the subject. Decide who you would like to be in charge of distributing the assets and name her the executor.

Step 2

Add any appropriate conditions to the bequests. Many testators condition gifts on the heir living longer than the testator. Identify an alternate beneficiary if you impose conditions. Consider adding a "residuary beneficiary" to inherit any property remaining in the estate after fulfilling the specific bequests. If you have minor children, select a legal guardian for them.

Step 3

Take this information to an attorney or, alternatively, prepare the will yourself. Some states (e.g., California) include in their laws a form will valid in all respects. Obtain a copy from the probate court or law library. If your state does not provide a statutory will, obtain a valid form will from an attorney's office or the Internet. Alternatively, draft your own will.

Step 4

Fill in the blanks on the form will with your identifying information and your bequests. If you are drafting your own will, first identify yourself, add statutory requirements (such as being of legal age and sound mind), then write out your bequests and name an executor.

Step 5

Acknowledge the document as your last will and testament before two witnesses. The witnesses should be older than 18, of sound mind and disinterested, meaning they stand to gain nothing in the will.