How to Prepare a Last Will

By Teo Spengler

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.

Step 1

Draft a complete list of your assets with identifying information. List things like real estate with street addresses and tax identification numbers; vehicles with license plate numbers; bank accounts with bank information; investment accounts with firm addresses; and jewelry, furs and heirlooms with notes describing where they are located. Lump personal property and house furnishings into general categories, and add them to the list. This list should provide a complete description of your holdings.

Step 2

Make a list of your potential heirs. Start with spouse, children, parents, siblings, cousins, grandparents and other family members. Add friends, neighbors, employees, godchildren -- anyone you care about or who is dependent on you financially. Include any church groups, associations, nonprofits or political associations to which you contribute or would like to. The list describes all persons and groups to whom you might make devises.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan

Step 3

Determine whether you need an attorney. Review both the list of assets and the list of potential heirs, and consider whether your estate faces tax issues. Decide whether you intend to disinherit any children. Any complexities of this nature usually mean that hiring experienced legal help is a good idea.

Step 4

Determine what property you will give to which heirs. Make an appointment with an estate attorney, if applicable, or fill in a form will. Identify yourself in the form where appropriate, fill in devises in the appropriate sections, and identify heirs by full name and address. Add your choice for guardian for your minor children and the executor of your will. Execute your will by signing in front of two adult witnesses who are not heirs under your will. The witnesses should sign below your signature.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan
How to Prepare to Make a Will


Related articles

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 to inherit your assets at your death. Although complex estates profit from tax planning and legal assistance, form wills can work well for simple holdings. States impose few rules about the provisions of your will, but are particular about how you execute the document.

How to Make a Legal Will in California

If you are a California resident who is 18 years or older, you can make a valid will without a great expenditure of time or money. Those with simple holdings can write a will themselves, dispensing with attorneys, notaries and even witnesses. The California Probate Code specifically approves a handwritten will -- termed a holographic will -- for state residents. While a holographic will is not for everybody -- more complicated estates might benefit from legal advice and tax-planning assistance -- a simple handwritten will remains a valid, viable option.

Guide to Writing a Will

Writing a will is a serious undertaking that can settle your financial and property affairs for your spouse, children and grandchildren, as well as give you peace of mind and confidence that your estate will be administered as you have intended. A review of your present financial assets and consideration of your wishes for your children or grandchildren can help guide you to writing a will.

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

Related articles

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 ...

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 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 ...

How do I Create a Valid Will?

Will requirements are neither tricky nor confusing. If you follow the procedures mandated in your state of residence, ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED