Steps to Writing a Will

By Carrie Ferland

You don’t have to spend your life savings on your estate planning -- in fact, most homeowners with a simple estate and less than $1 million in assets can write a basic will themselves, without the expense involved in hiring an attorney. Writing your own will is relatively easy and inexpensive, and affords you the flexibility to update your estate plan whenever your circumstances demand it.

Step 1

Draft a list of your assets, including all real property, investments, cash and large personal property. Draft a separate list of your beneficiaries and make a note how you will divide these assets among them. Also, decide who will inherit the “rest and residue” of your assets, which is everything you own other than the assets you explicitly bequeathed to your beneficiaries.

Step 2

Start a new typewritten document and title it “Last Will & Testament of (Your Name).” Below this, enter your current physical address and Social Security number. Declare this document as your final will, and revoke any previous will or codicil you may have established, even if you this is the first will you have ever written.

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Step 3

Create a new section, titled “Family Relationships,” and define your marital relationship, if any, as well as any prior marriages and their subsequent termination dates. If you are not and have never been married, state as such. Then, list your biological and adopted children -- whether minor or adult -- along with their corresponding dates of birth and Social Security numbers, even if you intend to disinherit them. If you have no biological or adopted children, state as such.

Step 4

Create a new section titled, “Appointment of Guardian(s).” Define whom you appoint as the guardian of your minor children after your passing. Include at least one alternative in the event your first choice is unwilling or unable to serve as guardian. Note that if your children’s other parent is still living at the time of your passing, he will assume custody of the children by default, even if you appoint another guardian in your will and/or explicitly exclude the parent as a potential guardian.

Step 5

Create a new section titled “Appointment of Administrator(s).” Define whom you appoint to serve as executor of your will, and provide any special powers or restrictions you wish to grant to her. As with your children’s guardian, you should appoint at least one alternative executor in the event your first choice is unable to serve.

Step 6

Create a new section titled “Beneficiaries.” Using the list of your assets you initially drafted, name each individual beneficiary and describe, in detail, the property or asset they are to inherit. When finished, define a “Rest & Residue” clause, and name your one beneficiary to inherit any remaining property from your estate not explicitly bequeathed to any other person named within the will. If you are explicitly disinheriting anyone from your will, define a clause, titled “Excluded as Beneficiary,” and list the full name of each person you are disinheriting.

Step 7

Leave blank spaces for your signature and the signature of your witnesses. Proofread your entire will and print a copy when finished. Do not sign your will at this time.

Step 8

Sign the will in the presence of at least two disinterested witnesses, who must also sign your will at this time. Both witnesses should provide their full names and addresses so that they may be contacted in the future should they need to testify to the veracity of your signature.

Step 9

Make a copy of your signed will, and store both the copy and the original for safekeeping. A fireproof lockbox or filing cabinet is a good choice. Instruct your closest relatives where your will is located and how to find it in the event of your passing, so they may file your will for probate after your death.

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What Is the Format for Writing a Will?

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How to Make a Will Without a Lawyer

A lawyer is helpful in the will creation process because you can be confident that your will has been drafted according to your state’s laws. An attorney’s help is not essential, however. If you feel confident that you can navigate your state’s laws and express your wishes on paper in a clear and unambiguous way, you can make your own will. Each state has different formal requirements, but you may opt to comply with the laws of every state to help ensure that your will is valid.

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Writing your own will is a relatively straightforward process if your assets and bequests are also straightforward. In these circumstances, as long as you comply with the laws of your state, your will is likely to stand up in a court of law and be executed according to your wishes. You can easily write your own will through one of two methods: either draft it yourself on a computer or typewriter, or create one through an online program.

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