How to Write a Legal Basic Will

by Teo Spengler
Some states provide a valid form will in the probate statutes.

Some states provide a valid form will in the probate statutes.

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Cases of complicated and often absurd wills that are dramatically disputed tend to make the headlines: the billionaire who leaves her estate in trust to a chihuahua and its offspring; the spend-thrift restrictions imposed on the prodigal son's inheritance; the surviving spouse disinherited if she remarries. Yet most simple estates are well-served with a basic will. State laws do not mandate either fancy language or red wax seals. A simple will is generally considered valid in any typed format if the testator describes her bequests clearly and signs before two or three witnesses.

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Step 1

Check that you are permitted to make a will in your state. Most states require that testator be 18 years or older and of sound mind. The law presumes that an adult is of sound mind, meaning capable of making rational decisions, so you never have to prove it; anyone challenging your ability to reason bears the burden of proof.

Step 2

Decide who you want to inherit your property on your death. Family comes first to many, but many states impose no restrictions on disinheriting spouses and adult children. Select one heir for everything, or divide your property up among a few. If you choose the latter, write a clear and detailed property description. Leave no ambiguity about what property you include in each devise. Identify the heirs by first, last and middle name, as well as current address and phone number.

Step 3

Fill in your identifying information in the first form will sections. Turn to the bequest sections and insert your list from Step 2. Do not cut corners. Take all the space you need to be clear about devises. Select an executor for your will, and insert her name in the appropriate blank. The executor administers your will after you die: she files the will in probate court, gathers assets, pays estate debts and distributes the remaining property among your heirs.

Step 4

Find adults to witness your will. The number you need will depend on the specific regulations of your state. Choose people who are not named in your will as heirs. Tell the witnesses that the document is your last will and testament. Sign and date it, then have each witness sign on the appropriate line below your signature. You do not have to notarize the signatures. Whether or not the witnesses must see the testator sign the will also varies from state to state, so be sure to find out what's stated in your state's law.

Step 5

Make a copy of the will before storing your original will in your home safe or safety deposit box for safe keeping. You can also leave it with your attorney. Do not hide the document somewhere inside your house without advising the named executor or your attorney. A lost will creates problems in probate.