How to Write a Last Will

by Teo Spengler
States do not require that a will contain fancy language or wax seals.

States do not require that a will contain fancy language or wax seals.

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Fewer than half of American adults have a last will and testament, according to the American Bar Association. One possible explanation is the misconception that wills are complex and require expensive legal assistance. However, you can draft a simple will in a few hours. A will is a legal document that describes how you want your property distributed after your death. Writing a last will is straightforward and gives you control over the disbursement of your estate to your heirs.

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Step 1

Read through the form will. It provides standard testamentary language with blanks for your information. The preliminary paragraph identifies the person making the will, termed the testator. A testator must be 18 years old and of sound mind, and the will language specifies those qualifications. The term "sound mind" means mental capacity adequate to reason and judge ordinary subjects. Courts presume that adults are of sound mind, and anyone challenging this must prove the allegation with specific, explicit evidence. Fill in the blanks in the identification section using your full name and current address.

Step 2

Review the inheritance section of the form will. Use draft paper to work out your devises, identifying which property will go to which heir. Decide whether you wish to condition the devises on the heirs outliving you. If so, determine alternative beneficiaries in case the original heirs die before you do. Enter the devise information in the appropriate blanks in the form will. Use the full name of each heir and provide other identifying information such as current address and telephone number. Identify the property with sufficient details to preclude ambiguity, giving street addresses of real property, license plate numbers of vehicles and bank account numbers for investments.

Step 3

Select a guardian for your minor children, if any. Consider naming a separate financial guardian to manage the children's holdings until they are of age. Name an executor for your estate. An executor acts as administrator for your estate after you die, taking the will to probate, collecting assets, paying estate debts and distributing the assets according to the provisions of your will. Check with the people you select before you finalize your will to confirm their willingness to serve as executor or guardian.

Step 4

Execute the will according to state law. All states require that a testator sign in the presence of at least two witnesses. Select adults over the age of 18 who are not named in your will. Some states do not permit spouses to serve as witnesses. Tell the witnesses that the document you are about to sign is your will; they need not read it nor know its contents. While the witnesses are watching, initial each page of the will, then sign and date it. Have each witness sign in the appropriate space below your signature.