How to Get a Will

By Teo Spengler

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.

Step 1

Locate a good form will. Select a statutory will if your state offers one. A statutory will is a form will approved by the state legislature for use in that state. You find it in the probate statutes. Alternatively, choose a form will approved by the bar association in your state. Look for one in the law library or in the probate court or else call the bar association. A well-drafted form will contains any special language your state requires and includes an execution section, or place for you to sign, tailored to your state's mandates.

Step 2

Recognize legal vocabulary for will terms. The testator is the person drafting the will, in this case, you. The people to whom you leave property or assets are termed "heirs" or "beneficiaries," while the assets they inherit are called "devises" or "bequests." In legal language, to "execute a will" is to sign it using state mandated procedures. An executor is the person who administers the will through probate court after your demise.

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Step 3

Fill in the initial blanks in the will form that ask for your name and other identifying information. This paragraph specifies that you are old enough to make a will in your state; read the language of the form to assure yourself that this is true. Most states require a testator to be at least 18 years old, although some states provide lower age limits and some contain exceptions allowing underage, married testators to make a will. The early paragraphs also state that you are of sound mind, generally meaning as mentally capable as an average person. Courts presume that adults are of sound mind so, absent special circumstances, do not worry about this.

Step 4

Locate the section setting forth heirs and devises. Make your list and insert it here. Describe bequests in percentage shares of your estate, for example, "to my four children in equal shares" or "half of my estate to cousin Ellen." Alternatively, leave specific property to specific people. If you select the latter method of describing bequests, identify both the property and the heir precisely to avoid ambiguity later. Consider naming a residuary beneficiary to inherit whatever you failed to include in a specific bequest.

Step 5

In the blank asking for an executor, insert the name of the person you have selected to steer your will through probate. If you have minor children, name a guardian and, if you want, a different financial guardian to manage their finances through majority. Discuss the appointments with these people before you finalize your will to be sure they accept the positions. Fill in any remaining blanks in the will that apply to your situation.

Step 6

Execute the last testament in the manner provided in the will. If you have a less-than-stellar will form, look up the requirements in the law library. All states require that your signature be affirmed by at least two adult witnesses. Select persons who are not heirs under your will. Tell them that the document you are signing is your will, then sign in their presence. They sign in the appropriate spaces.

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How to Make a Will with Beneficiaries

A will is a legal document and special vocabulary applies to virtually every step of the drafting process. The document itself is often termed "last will and testament;" the person drafting the will is known as the testator. In a will, the testator makes "devises" or "bequests" her property to selected persons or entities, termed "heirs" or "beneficiaries." Since a central purpose of a will is to name heirs, the process of "making a will with beneficiaries" is neither more nor less than that of making a will.

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Few people like to contemplate their own demise and, as a result, fewer than half of American adults have valid wills, according to the American Bar Association. Dying without a will leaves decisions about inheritance to the state and -- for those with minor children -- forfeits your say in their future care. If your spouse does not survive you, a guardian raises your minor children. A will is your vehicle to name a trusted person to this important office and also to appoint a financial guardian to manage their assets until they come of age.

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Form wills simplify do-it-yourself will drafting. A good form will, prepared or approved by your state bar association, eliminates the need to research probate procedures and will requirements in your jurisdiction. Statutory wills -- state-approved form wills included in state probate statutes -- are best. Large or complicated estates may require legal assistance, but form wills serve well for many simple estates. Consider that the simple will an attorney prepares is likely a form-will template adjusted to your particular situation.

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