How to Make a Will by Yourself

By Stephanie Kurose, J.D.

How to Make a Will by Yourself

By Stephanie Kurose, J.D.

Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to have an attorney draft a will for you. Anyone can write this document on their own, and as long as it meets all of the legal requirements of the state, courts will recognize one you wrote yourself. However, if a court finds your will partially or wholly invalid, there can be serious consequences to how your property transfers after your death. It is important to follow your state's legal requirements when creating this paperwork by yourself. Although specific stipulations vary between states, their processes share the same general steps.

Bearded man writing in notebook

1. Title your will.

Clearly identify the document as your last will and testament. Most states do not require any specific wording, but it must be unequivocally clear that you intend for this document to be your will. Many begin with simply stating, "This is the last will and testament of [your name]," followed by the date. You might also want to include a sentence revoking any and all previous versions you've drafted.

2. Name an executor.

The executor should be someone you trust to fulfill your last wishes. This person is responsible for collecting your assets and distributing them to the correct people, paying any remaining debts, and settling your estate. It is good practice to name a backup executor in case your first choice is unavailable or does not accept the role.

3. Name a guardian if you have children.

If you have any minor children, you can name a guardian for them in your will. If you do not have minor children, you can skip this step. The guardian takes legal and physical custody of your minor children when you die. In most states, guardianship automatically passes to the surviving parent unless that parent is incompetent, has given up their parental rights, or is otherwise unable to care for the children.

4. Inventory your assets.

The bulk of your will lists your assets and who you want them to go to after you die. In order to complete this section, you must make a list of all the assets you wish to distribute. Assets might include money, personal belongings, and the titles to your house and automobiles. Include a detailed description of each piece of property. The only assets that you typically cannot include in the document are trusts, investment accounts, and bank accounts, as they already have named beneficiaries.

5. Name your beneficiaries.

The next step is to assign your assets to specific people. A will can have one beneficiary or multiple beneficiaries, and beneficiaries can be individuals, organizations, or other entities. You also must list any person you specifically want to exclude. Keep in mind that most states do not allow you to exclude your spouse.

6. Write a residuary clause.

A residuary clause is a short phrase that covers everything in your estate you did not specifically leave to a named beneficiary. Typical residuary clauses are a single sentence, leaving the "rest, residue, and remainder" of the estate to a particular beneficiary.

7. Execute your will.

Once you have finished the substantive portion of your will, the final step is to sign it in front of at least two witnesses. State laws vary as to how many witnesses they require and whom they can be, so be sure to confirm before signing anything. You must sign the document in front of the witnesses, and they must sign it in front of you.

Writing a will on your own is relatively straightforward once you familiarize yourself with the requirements to make the document valid in your state. Be sure to title the document, name an executor, your beneficiaries, any assets, include a residuary clause, and check the requirements for executing the will in your region. After you finish writing your it, keep it in a safe place and let your executor know where they can find it.

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.