How to Write a Last Will

By Teo Spengler

Fewer than half of American adults have a last will and testament, according to the American Bar Association. One possible explanation is the misconception that wills are complex and require expensive legal assistance. However, you can draft a simple will in a few hours. A will is a legal document that describes how you want your property distributed after your death. Writing a last will is straightforward and gives you control over the disbursement of your estate to your heirs.

Step 1

Read through the form will. It provides standard testamentary language with blanks for your information. The preliminary paragraph identifies the person making the will, termed the testator. A testator must be 18 years old and of sound mind, and the will language specifies those qualifications. The term "sound mind" means mental capacity adequate to reason and judge ordinary subjects. Courts presume that adults are of sound mind, and anyone challenging this must prove the allegation with specific, explicit evidence. Fill in the blanks in the identification section using your full name and current address.

Step 2

Review the inheritance section of the form will. Use draft paper to work out your devises, identifying which property will go to which heir. Decide whether you wish to condition the devises on the heirs outliving you. If so, determine alternative beneficiaries in case the original heirs die before you do. Enter the devise information in the appropriate blanks in the form will. Use the full name of each heir and provide other identifying information such as current address and telephone number. Identify the property with sufficient details to preclude ambiguity, giving street addresses of real property, license plate numbers of vehicles and bank account numbers for investments.

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Step 3

Select a guardian for your minor children, if any. Consider naming a separate financial guardian to manage the children's holdings until they are of age. Name an executor for your estate. An executor acts as administrator for your estate after you die, taking the will to probate, collecting assets, paying estate debts and distributing the assets according to the provisions of your will. Check with the people you select before you finalize your will to confirm their willingness to serve as executor or guardian.

Step 4

Execute the will according to state law. All states require that a testator sign in the presence of at least two witnesses. Select adults over the age of 18 who are not named in your will. Some states do not permit spouses to serve as witnesses. Tell the witnesses that the document you are about to sign is your will; they need not read it nor know its contents. While the witnesses are watching, initial each page of the will, then sign and date it. Have each witness sign in the appropriate space below your signature.

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References

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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.

How to Create a Will When You Have Kids

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.

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, 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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