How to Make My Own Will Free of Charge

By Cindy DeRuyter, J.D.

How to Make My Own Will Free of Charge

By Cindy DeRuyter, J.D.

When you plan ahead for how your assets will be managed and distributed after your death, you are giving an important gift to your loved ones. In today's do-it-yourself, digital age, it's tempting to want to create your own will without having to pay anyone to do so.

Parents happily chopping vegetables with child between them

Because of the complexities that can come with estate administration, it can be well worth the expense to work with a qualified estate planning attorney in your state to ensure that your wishes will actually be carried out when you die. However, if you believe your situation is fairly simple, you may be able to make your own will.

Step 1. Choose an online legal services provider or locate a will template.

If you decide to draft your own will, you can find free or low-cost resources online or through a community education class. Alternatively, you could choose to work with a reputable legal resource that helps walk you through the process. After you have decided on a format or template, you can make decisions about what information to include in your will.

Step 2. Carefully consider your distribution wishes.

Your will controls assets that you own at the time of your death without a joint owner and without one or more beneficiaries. It is important to consider how you want these assets to pass at your death, and your will should reflect your wishes.

You can also designate different levels of contingency. For example, you could say "I leave my assets to X. If X does not survive me, then to Y. If Y does not survive me, then to Z," and so on. This approach can help avoid the need to update your will if your first-named beneficiary does not survive you.

Step 3. Identify a personal representative/executor.

Your will should also identify who is in charge of the process of administering your estate. Some states call the person in this role a personal representative, while other states refer to this person as an executor or administrator.

Typically, people choose an adult family member or a close friend for this role, but there are also professional fiduciaries you could name for a fee. As with your distribution wishes, you can also name one or more contingent personal representatives to serve if the person you nominated first is unable or unwilling to serve in that role when called to do so.

Step 4. Understand the requirements to make your will legal.

If you plan to create your own will, it is also important to make sure the format you use complies with your state's laws. In some states, it is legal to create "holographic" wills, which are wills written entirely in their creators' handwriting. In other states, however, holographic wills are not valid.

State law requirements to make a will valid also differ from state to state. Most states require you to describe and distribute at least one asset for your will to be valid. In many states, you need two witnesses, but some states require three. Those witnesses must be at least 18 years old and competent to witness your signature before signing themselves.

Step 5. Make sure someone else knows about your will.

After you finalize your will, you should keep it in a safe place. It is also important for your named personal representative/executor to know where to find the original document, and you may want to give him or her a copy of it.

Consult a lawyer if you have a more complicated estate.

Generally speaking, if you have one or more minor children, if your distribution wishes are complex, or if your portfolio involves a significant amount of assets, trying to create your own will may not be a good idea. The language used in most states' intestacy laws is complex; if you don't fully understand something, you could inadvertently jeopardize your own wishes.

When in doubt, consulting an estate planning lawyer licensed in your state can help you understand estate planning and distribution strategies so that your will or other estate planning documents accomplish what you intend.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.