Checklist for Creating a Last Will & Testament

By Beverly Bird

While most states will not allow you to disinherit a spouse and certain legal requirements vary depending on where you live, for the most part the disposition of your property when you die is entirely up to you if you make a will. You should always check with an attorney, however, to make sure that your will complies with all the laws in your state.

Identification Information

Make sure there is no doubt that the will is yours and be sure to specifically identify everyone else named in it as well. Include your name and address. Some states also require your birth date. Note the relationship of anyone you mention in your will whenever applicable, such as “My son, John J. Doe, Jr., date of birth January 1, 2010.” If you are married, include your date of marriage.

Assets and Beneficiaries

List everything you own with descriptions where necessary. For instance, if you own two automobiles and you want to leave one to your son and one to your daughter, state that the blue Chevrolet goes to your son and the yellow Toyota goes to your daughter. Make provisions for the possibility that your beneficiaries might predecease you by stating who you want to receive that item of property if this happens. If you leave your entire estate to one person or one entity, spell this out. You can also bequeath certain items to certain beneficiaries, then note that the remainder or “residue” of your estate goes to a certain individual.

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Your Debts

Make an honest assessment of what you own and what each asset is worth so you can be sure your estate will be able to afford all expenses, such as probate costs, your funeral expenses, outstanding debts in your name and taxes. Your situation can change as time goes on, so it is important to re-evaluate your will periodically. If it looks like your estate might come up short, consider taking out a life insurance policy to make up any difference. If your estate appears particularly solvent, decide if you want to forgive any debts owed to you. For instance, if you loaned a friend $20,000 to purchase a car and he is paying you back at the rate of $200 a month, make specific mention that he no longer has to do this after you are gone. Otherwise, he would be liable for continuing to pay your estate.

Executors and Guardians

Name the person you want to execute your estate -- the one you want to oversee the probate of your will. Just as you did with your beneficiaries, name an alternate in the event your chosen executor predeceases you or is otherwise unable to meet the responsibilities of the decision. If you have minor children, name a guardian and alternate guardian in the event you and your spouse perish together.


Confer with anyone you designate as an executor or guardian to be sure she is willing to take on the job before you name her in your will. After you have your executor’s consent, make sure she knows where to find your will in the event of your death. If you keep it in your safe, she should have the combination. If you leave it with your attorney, give your executor the name and contact information for that individual.

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How to Prepare to Make a Will


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How to Word a Last Will & Testament

There is no set formula for writing a will, according to the American Bar Association. However, there are certain words and phrases that can alert the probate court to the fact that you have included certain required elements in your will. These phrases often appear on preprinted will forms, and you may wish to include them in your own will. Knowing how to word a last will and testament can help you remember to include all the necessary information in your will.

How to List Cash in a Last Will & Testament

A last will and testament contains your final wishes for how and to whom you want your property distributed upon your death. A will can list personal property such as a gold watch, real property such as your home, or a sum of cash. There are different ways to list cash in a will, and how it is listed can affect how much a beneficiary actually receives, or if he receives anything at all.

How to Prepare a Will

A will is a document in which a person describes the management and distribution of her estate after her death. Per common law, a "will" disposed of real property while a "testament" disposed of personal property, but today the courts use the terms interchangeably. No state requires a will, but persons dying without wills cede to the state all decisions about estate distribution. With a will, a testator makes her own inheritance decisions, selects an appropriate executor for her estate, and names a guardian to raise her minor children in the event of her death.

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