Writing your own will is probably not a high-priority item on your to-do list. After all, no one wants to think about their demise. That said, creating a will is one of the most important duties that you can do for your family. While writing a will sounds like a daunting task, it doesn't have to be. There are online tools that you can use to write a basic will.
What Is a Will?
A will is a legal document that states how your affairs will be handled after you die. A basic will designates who will receive your property, appoints a guardian for your minor children, and names an executor to manage your estate.
While laws vary state by state, there are a few formal requirements that a will must meet:
- The testator, the person making the will, must be at least 18 years old and of sound mind.
- The will must be in writing. While about half the states allow handwritten, also called holographic, wills, a pre-printed or typewritten document is preferred.
- The testator must sign and date the will in front of witnesses who are at least 18 years old. Some states require two witnesses, while others require three.
- Witnesses cannot be beneficiaries in the will.
- It isn't necessary to have your will notarized. It's a good idea, however, to have your witnesses sign a “self-proving" affidavit, which is a sworn statement signed by both you and your witnesses attesting to the validity of the will.
If your will does not meet your state's legal requirements, it might be held invalid by a court. In this case, state law determines how your estate is managed.
Writing Your Will
Follow these steps to begin writing your will.
1. Create the initial document.
Start by titling the document “Last Will and Testament" and including your full legal name and address. In the declaration paragraph, state that you are of legal age and sound mind, that this is your last will and testament and revokes all previously made wills and codicils, and that you are not making this will under duress.
2. Designate an executor.
The executor acts as your personal representative who manages and distributes the assets of your estate. While testators (people writing wills) commonly choose a friend or close family member, consider naming your attorney or financial advisor in order to ward off any potential problems. Make sure the person you choose is honest, reliable, trustworthy, and willing to act as your agent. In the event your first choice is not available, appoint an alternate. Because closing an estate can be a daunting task, decide whether you wish to compensate your executor.
3. Appoint a guardian.
It's important to name a guardian to care for your minor or dependent children in the event you are the last surviving parent or the surviving parent is unfit to care for them. Otherwise, the court will appoint someone. You want to choose someone who is not only prepared to take on the responsibilities of raising your children until they turn 18 but who is also close to you and your children. Make sure to discuss this decision with both your children and the potential guardian, and consider naming an alternate guardian should something happen to your first choice.
4. Name the beneficiaries.
Beneficiaries are the people who stand to inherit your assets after you die. Your beneficiaries may include your spouse, children, relatives, and close friends, among others. Make sure to include the full names of your beneficiaries in your will so as to leave no doubt as to their identity. Whatever you do, don't name your pet as a beneficiary. Instead, designate a person to care for your pet.
5. Designate the assets.
Make a list of your assets and decide who will inherit what. If you plan to disinherit a family member, make sure you name the person in your will and the reasons behind your decision, if you so choose. Should you wish to disinherit your spouse, consult with an attorney when drafting your will. Under some state laws, the surviving spouse has the right of election, which means they are entitled to take a percentage (usually one half) of the estate. Some assets, such as a life insurance policy, that name a beneficiary are not part of the will and must go to the designated person.
6. Ask witnesses to sign your will.
After you've finished writing your will, ask two persons to serve as witnesses. The witnesses must be over 18 years old and not be beneficiaries in your will. Sign and date the will in front of them and then have your witnesses sign and date the will as well. In most states, you don't have to have the will notarized. You might want to have your witnesses sign a statement called a "self-proving" affidavit so that they don't have to go to court to testify that the signature on the document is yours.
7. Store your will in a safe place.
Keep your will in a safe place such as a safe deposit box and let your executor know where it is. You may want to review your will every two to three years, especially after a major life change such as a divorce, birth, or 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.