How to Write a Will That's Not Expensive

by David Carnes
The validity of a will is determined by a probate court.

The validity of a will is determined by a probate court.

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Unless your finances are complex, you may be able to write your own will without the assistance of a lawyer. Nevertheless, you must understand the law governing wills so you don't make an error that could invalidate it. If your will is declared invalid for any reason, your property will be distributed to your relatives in an order and percentage prescribed by state law. Since wills are governed by state law, requirements differ somewhat from state to state; therefore, you should familiarize yourself with your particular state's requirements.

Step 1

Inventory your property and create an organized list. Your estate property includes real estate, personal property such as furniture, intangible property such as shares of stock and copyrights, and the contents of your bank account.

Step 2

Start a document with the title, "Last Will and Testament of [your full name]."

Step 3

Identify yourself by full name and address. State in specific terms that the purpose of the document is to provide instructions on how your property is to be distributed after you die.

Step 4

Revoke all previous wills and codicils, if this is not your first will. A codicil is an amendment to a will.

Step 5

Nominate an estate executor and an alternate. Make sure to get their permission first. The executor's job is to pay off your creditors, pay taxes on your estate, distribute property to your beneficiaries, represent your estate in probate court and perform other administrative duties.

Step 6

Nominate a guardian for any minor children who survive you. Name an alternate guardian as well, in case your guardian dies before you or otherwise cannot serve. Be sure to obtain your chosen guardians' permission. Although a probate court is not obligated to appoint a guardian named in a will, it usually does so unless the appointment would not be in the best interests of the child.

Step 7

Add clear instructions for the distribution of your property to the beneficiaries you name, using the inventory you created. You should also designate who should receive the "residue" of your estate -- any property you accumulate between the day you sign the will and the day you die.

Step 8

Sign and date your will in the presence of two or three witnesses, depending on state law. You should also consider having a notary public witness the signing of your will because some states will excuse your witnesses from appearing in probate court if the will is notarized. A notary will check your ID to confirm your identify, watch you sign and make a notation on your will confirming your signature is authentic.