How to Get a Will

By Teo Spengler

Many people postpone writing a last will and testament on the assumption that the process is time-consuming and expensive. While tax planning and legal assistance benefit large or complex estates, form wills often work well for simple holdings. Form wills contain the bare bones of a last testament; you fill in the blanks to personalize the document. Few states regulate the contents of devises, but most provide strict statutory requirements for how to sign the will. With a well-prepared form will, you "get a will" in one afternoon.

Many people postpone writing a last will and testament on the assumption that the process is time-consuming and expensive. While tax planning and legal assistance benefit large or complex estates, form wills often work well for simple holdings. Form wills contain the bare bones of a last testament; you fill in the blanks to personalize the document. Few states regulate the contents of devises, but most provide strict statutory requirements for how to sign the will. With a well-prepared form will, you "get a will" in one afternoon.

Step 1

Locate a good form will. Select a statutory will if your state offers one. A statutory will is a form will approved by the state legislature for use in that state. You find it in the probate statutes. Alternatively, choose a form will approved by the bar association in your state. Look for one in the law library or in the probate court or else call the bar association. A well-drafted form will contains any special language your state requires and includes an execution section, or place for you to sign, tailored to your state's mandates.

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Step 2

Recognize legal vocabulary for will terms. The testator is the person drafting the will, in this case, you. The people to whom you leave property or assets are termed "heirs" or "beneficiaries," while the assets they inherit are called "devises" or "bequests." In legal language, to "execute a will" is to sign it using state mandated procedures. An executor is the person who administers the will through probate court after your demise.

Step 3

Fill in the initial blanks in the will form that ask for your name and other identifying information. This paragraph specifies that you are old enough to make a will in your state; read the language of the form to assure yourself that this is true. Most states require a testator to be at least 18 years old, although some states provide lower age limits and some contain exceptions allowing underage, married testators to make a will. The early paragraphs also state that you are of sound mind, generally meaning as mentally capable as an average person. Courts presume that adults are of sound mind so, absent special circumstances, do not worry about this.

Step 4

Locate the section setting forth heirs and devises. Make your list and insert it here. Describe bequests in percentage shares of your estate, for example, "to my four children in equal shares" or "half of my estate to cousin Ellen." Alternatively, leave specific property to specific people. If you select the latter method of describing bequests, identify both the property and the heir precisely to avoid ambiguity later. Consider naming a residuary beneficiary to inherit whatever you failed to include in a specific bequest.

Step 5

In the blank asking for an executor, insert the name of the person you have selected to steer your will through probate. If you have minor children, name a guardian and, if you want, a different financial guardian to manage their finances through majority. Discuss the appointments with these people before you finalize your will to be sure they accept the positions. Fill in any remaining blanks in the will that apply to your situation.

Step 6

Execute the last testament in the manner provided in the will. If you have a less-than-stellar will form, look up the requirements in the law library. All states require that your signature be affirmed by at least two adult witnesses. Select persons who are not heirs under your will. Tell them that the document you are signing is your will, then sign in their presence. They sign in the appropriate spaces.

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How to Make a Will with Beneficiaries

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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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