A testamentary will -- redundantly termed a "last will and testament" by lawyers -- is a document stating your conscious and deliberate choices as to the disposition of your property after you die. The simplicity or complexity of your will depends upon the property you hold and the heirs you wish to include. Simple wills require only a qualified testator -- or will maker -- testamentary instructions and proper execution.
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Assure yourself that you are a valid testator. In most states, any person who is 18 years or older and of sound mind can make a will. Having a sound mind means that you understand that you are making a will, known your next of kin -- whether or not you name them as heirs -- and generally comprehend the terms of your will.
List your assets on scratch paper. Include houses and other real estate, investments, bank accounts -- including retirement accounts -- vehicles and personal property. The core of a will is devising your property, so be careful and thorough. List specifically any items of personal property that have high monetary or sentimental value, such as jewelry, family photos and heirlooms. Also add any significant debts owed and payable to you in the future.
Make a similar draft list of potential heirs. Include children, spouses, siblings and parents. Add friends, anyone who has been kind to you or important in your life, and any organizations or associations you assist or would like to assist.
Match each asset or piece of property with an heir from your list. Name the same heir for more than one item if you wish, or even name the same heir for everything. Decide on a residuary beneficiary to inherit whatever you forgot or neglected to specifically bequeath. Select a guardian for your minor children, if any.
Review the form will. Early blanks require information identifying you, including your full name, date of birth and current address. Fill these in. Then fill in the bequest sections according to your decisions in Step 4. If you have disinherited any natural or adopted child, state that clearly and specifically to prevent all claims that the child was accidentally left out. Identify by name and address your choice for guardian of your children.
Name an executor for your will in the appropriate blank in the form will. An executor takes charge of your assets when you die, gathers your property together, pays your bills and distributed the remainder of your estate according to the terms of your will.
Execute your will by acknowledging, signing and dating it before witnesses. Most states require two witnesses. Choose adults who are not heirs under your will. Have them sign the will below your signature.
- Form will valid in your state
Tips & Warnings
- Put your will in a safe place or give it to your attorney for safekeeping.
- In some states like California, you can make a holographic will, a will that you write out in your own hand. Holographic wills do not usually require witnesses.
- Consult an experienced estate lawyer for large or complex holdings.
References & Resources
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