How to Do Your Own Will

By Teo Spengler

Few people enjoy contemplating death, which may explain why only two out of five Americans over the age of 45 have wills. But a will provides peace of mind. With a will, you choose your own heirs, whether they are family members, good friends or worthy associations. Without a will, the state distributes your property under the intestate laws to blood kin you may not like or even know. In a will, you name an executor for your estate and specify who is to care for your minor children should your spouse not survive you.

Step 1

Choose a form will from the Internet, a stationary shop or your local law library. Ask the librarian to help you determine whether your state has a statutory will, which is a form will set out in the probate statues. California does as do several other states. If not, ask for a form will prepared by the local Bar Association.

Step 2

Read through the form will and consider whether it is appropriate for you. While form wills work well for simple or straight-forward estates, estates with complicated investments and myriad heirs may need a lawyer. Insert your identifying information in the opening paragraphs. This language affirms that you are of legal age and sound mind to make a will. If you are under 18, check your state laws to be sure you are not underage. Sound mind means that you are rational; courts assume an adult is of sound mind absent strong evidence to the contrary.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan

Step 3

Consider your bequests. If you leave your estate to one person or several people in equal parts, insert their names in the devise section. If you want to leave specific items of property to specific heirs, describe both the property and the heirs carefully to avoid confusion. Use numbers when possible to identify property, such as bank account numbers, vehicle license numbers and real estate parcel numbers. If you condition any bequest, name an alternative beneficiary in case the condition is not met. One popular condition is that the heir survives you. Name a residuary beneficiary to inherit whatever you neglected to devise specifically.

Step 4

Select a guardian for your minor children. If your spouse survives you, your spouse will assume care of the children in most situations. However, name a guardian in case your spouse does not survive you. Consider appointing a separate financial guardian to manage your children's money until they come of age; banks often assume this role. Name an executor to administer your estate and handle probate. Check with the persons you select before you execute your will to be sure they accept the appointments.

Step 5

Sign your will. This is termed "executing" your will and is regulated by statute to ensure that the document is what it purports to be. All states require that you sign a will before at least two witnesses. Select adults who are not heirs under the testament. Affirm to the witnesses that the document is your will, then sign it while they are present and watching. Each witness signs in the appropriate blank at the end of the will. You are not required to show witnesses the will or discuss its contents with them.

Step 6

Entrust your will to your attorney or your executor. Alternatively, store it in your safety deposit box or home safe. Some states allow testators to file sealed wills with the court; they remain private documents until the testator dies.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan
How to Create a Will When You Have Kids


Related articles

How to Make Your Own Will

Many people procrastinate making wills because of discomfort with the idea of death, but a well-conceived will brings peace of mind. With a will, you decide who gets your property; the state does not divide your estate according to the general intestate laws. Good testamentary planning can also produce tax benefits for your estate but may require legal advice. Precise procedural requirements for last testaments vary between jurisdictions, but most states accept a written will signed before two impartial witnesses.

How to Go About Making a Will

More than half of Americans don't have a will, according to the American Bar Association. Whether due to fear of death or lawyers' bills, many people procrastinate drafting a last testament. Yet a simple will is the task of a few hours, and proper execution is a matter of minutes -- if you understand the few procedural requirements. Those with large holdings or complicated estates may do better with tax and legal advice.

How to Get a Will

Many people postpone writing a last will and testament on the assumption that the process is time-consuming and expensive. While tax planning and legal assistance benefit large or complex estates, form wills often work well for simple holdings. Form wills contain the bare bones of a last testament; you fill in the blanks to personalize the document. Few states regulate the contents of devises, but most provide strict statutory requirements for how to sign the will. With a well-prepared form will, you "get a will" in one afternoon.

LegalZoom. Legal help is here. Start Here. Wills. Trusts. Attorney help. Wills & Trusts

Related articles

How to Create a Will at Home

So many people procrastinate drafting wills that less than half of American adults have last testaments, according to ...

How to Write a Last Will

Fewer than half of American adults have a last will and testament, according to the American Bar Association. One ...

How to Write a Will for Property

Modern courts make no distinction between the terms "will" and "testament." Both describe a document indicating who is ...

How to Fill Out Wills

Form wills simplify do-it-yourself will drafting. A good form will, prepared or approved by your state bar association, ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED