How to Make a Will Without a Lawyer

By Brette Sember, J.D.

How to Make a Will Without a Lawyer

By Brette Sember, J.D.

Many people assume you need a lawyer to create a will. While a lawyer can be very helpful, you can create a will yourself if you prefer. The key is understanding your state's specific requirements and making sure your will fulfills them. It's also possible to write a will that is acceptable in every state so that you avoid any possible problems.

Man in glasses typing at laptop with mug of coffee next to him

Here are the steps to do so.

1. Create the basic document outline.

You can create your will either as a printed computer document or handwrite it. Either way, it must be on regular paper and written in ink. Number the pages of the document (1 of 3, 2 of 3, 3 of 3, etc.) so that it is clear how many pages there are.

2. Include the necessary language.

Title the document "Last Will and Testament," then state that you declare this is "the last will and testament of (your name)." State that you are of sound mind. List your complete address and date of birth so that there can be no confusion as to your identity. State that you revoke any prior wills created before this document.

Print your name, full address, and date at the bottom of the will. Include a line for your signature and three additional spaces for names, addresses, dates, and signatures of each of the three witnesses.

3. List immediate relatives.

If you are married or have children who are alive, list the names of your spouse and children and your marriage date.

4. Name a guardian.

If you have children who are minors, you can name a guardian to care for them after your death. You can use language such as "I name John Doe as guardian for the person and property of my minor children." Choose at least one alternate guardian in case your first choice is unable to take on the responsibility.

5. Choose an executor.

An executor is the person who will handle the business of probating your will and distributing your property. You can use language such as "I name Jane Doe as the executor of my will and property." Choose an alternate executor in case your first choice is unavailable.

6. Name beneficiaries.

List any specific property or dollar amounts you want to leave to specific people. Be sure to list the beneficiaries' complete names and relationship to you and to adequately describe the items. For example: "To my daughter Sara Jones, I leave my diamond wedding rings, my blue and red Oriental rug, and my dining room furniture." If you're leaving real property, list the address of the property. If you're leaving a car, be sure to list the make, model, and year.

7. Allocate estate residue.

Once you have listed the items you want to leave to people specifically, list who you leave the residue, or remainder, of your estate to. This includes everything you own at the time of your death that you didn't already specifically list. You can leave the residue to one person or divide it among several people in any proportion you want. For example: "I leave the residue of my estate to my three grandchildren John Smith, Susie Smith, and Bob Smith in three equal portions."

8. Sign the will.

Sign the will in front of three witnesses who are neither included in your will nor natural heirs (people who would inherit from you if you died without a will). Ask the witnesses to fill in their names and addresses and sign the document in ink.

9. Store the will someplace safe.

Now that your will is complete, let your heirs and executor know you have created a will and where you are keeping it so that they can access it after your death.

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.