How do I Create a Valid Will?

By Teo Spengler

Will requirements are neither tricky nor confusing. If you follow the procedures mandated in your state of residence, you can create a valid will. Lawyers term wills "creatures of statute" because will requirements depend on state law. Absent a valid will, your property will pass according to intestate rules upon your death, generally to children and spouse or, in their absence, to siblings and parents. Your valid not only selects estate heirs but signals your choice for guardian of minor children as well as will executor.

Step 1

List your assets on scratch paper. Start with real estate holdings, move to bank and investment accounts, vehicles, other investments. List small property items generally as "personal property"; note separately personal property of special monetary or sentimental value.

Step 2

List your heirs. Include family, friends and even associations. Select a guardian for any minor children or pets, since they cannot hold money directly. Choose a person to handle your estate during probate, gathering assets and distributing them among your heirs; designate this person your executor on your rough draft.

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Step 3

Educate yourself about the basic will requirements in your state. Visit the probate court or the law library to obtain copies of relevant probate statutes. Alternatively, conduct an Internet search. Generally states do not mandate precise or formal will language; most requirements pertain to validating the signature with attesting witnesses.

Step 4

Obtain a statutory form will if your state statutes include one. Alternatively, get a form will from an attorney's office, the Internet or the probate court. Fill in your identifying information (name, address, etc.), then add assets and heirs. Mention the name and address of any guardians and specify your choice for executor.

Step 5

Type out your own will in the absence of a will form. Specify in the first paragraph that you are of legal age and sound mind, together with any other information your state requires. Provide the same information about identification, heirs, assets, guardians and executor. State that this will supersedes all previous wills.

Step 6

Acknowledge, sign and date the will before witnesses in the manner required by your state statutes. Most states require two disinterested witnesses of legal age and sound mind. "Disinterested" means that the witnesses are not among the heirs under your will. The witnesses sign the will below your signature.

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How Can I Make My Own Will Legal?

References

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How Can I Do My Own Will?

Less than half of American adults have wills. One reason for this low figure might be the common perception that wills are complicated and expensive to prepare. Although large and complex estates may require estate-planning services and legal advice, many people with smaller holdings use simple testaments. All jurisdictions accept self-drafted testaments that meet probate requirements. Some states -- such as California -- make it easy for people to draft their own wills by providing a valid form will in the statutes and allowing handwritten wills.

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A will is a document describing who will inherit your assets when you die. The simplicity of the concept stands in stark contrast to the sometimes complex -- but precise -- procedural requirements to make the will valid and enforceable. The legal hoops vary in number and complexity from state to state. California provides a wide a range of options for will drafters.

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A valid will lets you control the disposition of your assets after you die; otherwise, state law distributes your property to next of kin. A valid will can name a guardian for your minor children and an executor for your estate. Your circumstances dictate what type of will you need: a simple will that you can do yourself works well for if you have little property or few heirs, but legal help may be appropriate if you have more complex holdings and many heirs.

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