How to Word a Last Will & Testament

By A.L. Kennedy

There is no set formula for writing a will, according to the American Bar Association. However, there are certain words and phrases that can alert the probate court to the fact that you have included certain required elements in your will. These phrases often appear on preprinted will forms, and you may wish to include them in your own will. Knowing how to word a last will and testament can help you remember to include all the necessary information in your will.

Step 1

Begin with a statement that identifies the document as your last will and testament. This often reads, "This is the last will and testament of," followed by a space to write your name, according to the American Bar Association. Follow this up with your name and full address. You may also want to include a statement of the date, beginning with "Today's date is," followed by the day, month and year you are making your will.

Step 2

Name your executor. Begin a paragraph naming your executor by writing, for example, "I name _____ to be my executor," filling in the blank with your chosen executor's name. If you wish to name an alternate executor, follow this sentence with one that states that you wish your alternate executor to serve if your first-choice executor cannot. Your executor will be responsible for distributing your assets and paying your debts after you die, so it's wise to choose someone you trust.

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Step 3

Give your executor the power she will need to settle your debts and distribute your estate's assets to your beneficiaries. This statement can be quite simple. A well-known example of the simplicity of this statement appears in the will of Leonard Calvert, first governor of Maryland, which instructed his executor to "take all and pay all," according to the Archives of Maryland.

Step 4

Name your beneficiaries, or the people to whom you want to leave part or all of your property. In order to avoid confusion or a will contest after your death, name each person as specifically as possible, using a full name, address and relationship to you. For instance, specifying "my cousin John H. Smith, of 123 Main Street" makes it clear which person you mean, while a more vague statement like "my cousin John" might lead to confusion, especially if you have more than one cousin named John.

Step 5

Include a residuary clause. This ensures that any property you have not specifically mentioned is nevertheless covered by your will and can be distributed to the person you wish to have it. One example of a residuary clause which appears in USLegal.com, reads, "I will, devise, bequeath and give all the rest and remainder of my property and estate of every kind and character, including, but not limited to, real and personal property in which I may have an interest at the date of my death and which is not otherwise effectively disposed of, to ____," with the name of the person to receive any residuary assets in the blank.

Step 6

Revoke all prior wills and codicils, or will amendments, that you may have made. A simple way to word this statement is to say, "I hereby revoke any and all prior wills and codicils I have made," according to FindLaw.

Step 7

Sign and date your will in the presence of at least two witnesses. Your witnesses should watch you sign your name and write the date beside it, including the day, month and year. Each witness then signs and dates the will below your signature. For each witness, type in or have the witness write a sentence stating that he knows who you are and that he watched you sign your will. Some states also require a will to be notarized, so consult an attorney to determine if you will need a notary present when you and your witnesses sign, recommends FindLaw.

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