How to Write a Will: Your Step-by-Step Guide

Drafting A Will

Drawing up your own will can be a nerve wracking experience, especially if you are not really sure what you are doing. Since failure to comply with your particular state's drafting will laws could result in your will being declared invalid, you should consult with an attorney to make sure your estate stays out of probate, which is where courts award your property according to state inheritance law. If professional advice is not an option, this step by step guide will operate to light your way.

Adhere to Basic Format Standards

Every will has basic standard legal language that must be included. You should label your document Last Will and Testament of (Your First Name, Last Name). In addition, you should use sub heading language to label individual sections. Your will should include sections for:

  • Statement of Testamentary: This is where you will list your name, address, that you are over 18 years of age, that you are of sound mind, and that you are not writing your will under duress or force. In addition, this section will include a statement that all prior copies of the will are void.
  • List of Assets: You can also list all of your assets in an Exhibit "a" List of assets and incorporate the exhibit into your will by specific reference.
  • Guardianship of Children: This section is for couples with children, and lists the person or persons who will take care of the children upon death.
  • Executor: This section will list the person or persons that will ensure your will is carried out according to the document, along with other duties.
  • Specific Bequests: List of beneficiaries and the specific items of the estate you want them to have.
  • Additional Provisions: this can include funeral arrangements or donations to nonprofits or other charitable organizations.

Create List of Assets

In order to properly list property and figure out whom you would like to give particular property, it is key to have a clear picture of what you own. This will include real property, insurance policies, financial accounts, personal property, cash, contents of safe deposit boxes, investment property, and any other property you might own. Creating this list will make it easier on your executor and could help you to remember exactly what your estate is made up of.

Select a Guardian

This section is for couples with children under the age of 18. Guardians are the individuals who will step in and raise your children, in the event that both you and your spouse pass away in an untimely fashion. The guardian's sole legal duty will be to the minor children, and protecting what is in their best interests. This is a serious commitment that should only be undertaken by someone you implicitly trust with your children. It is always a good idea to select a backup guardian in the vent something occurs to your first selection.

Appoint an Executor

The executor of your will is the person who is responsible for making sure that the language of your will is carried out according to your wishes. This is a serious role, so make sure that you appoint a responsible and honest person. You should always name a back-up or contingent executor in the event that the original person is unable to serve. Executors are in charge of the following duties:

  • Conducting an inventory of assets after your death
  • Getting any assets appraised
  • Distributing assets
  • Ensuring any appropriate taxes are paid out of your estate
  • Resolving any estate debts

CreateYour Beneficiary/Bequest List

Every person that you are bequeathing or giving property to must be specifically identified. This includes using their name and DOB, to lessen the potential for discrepancies. Any bequests you make must be clear and unambiguous. FOr instance real property should be identified via address and tax parcel I.D. number. Financial assets bequests should include the name of the financial or investment institution and the account number. Insurance policies should be referred to by name of insurance company and policy number. Personal property should be identified with as much specificity as possible, i.e. a diamond Cartier watch. Even in this section, it is a good idea to name alternate beneficiaries just in case.

Validating Your Will

In order for a will to be considered valid it must be signed by the testator and witnessed by at least two people. There are certain states which also require that all parties sign the will in front of a notary. Witnesses must be with you when you are signing. In addition your witnesses cannot be beneficiaries of your will and by signing they are swearing that they are over 18 years of age, of sound mound, and not signing under duress.

Final Wishes

The additional provisions section is the best place to include miscellaneous wishes. This can include funeral arrangements, gifts to non-profits, educational institutions, or other charitable organizations. As with the prior sections, make sure you are as detailed as possible so your executor has a clear directive when administering your will.

Draw up the Will

Nowadays, you can access a number of online sites that will provide you with either a sample template or software that will create the will after you input certain information. If you are not consulting with an attorney because you can't afford to or because you don't own a lot of property, then using software that allows you to specify your resident state, marital status, and whether or not you have children, is probably the better choice as a number of these programs will make sure that certain state requirements are met.

State Bar Associations

A state bar association is the organization that provides oversight and governance to all the attorneys that are licensed to practice in the state. Often the state bar association will offer residents a template for a simple will, along with instructions to make sure that your will is compliant with state law.

Do Your Own Will

This is a free will drafting site, that even has a handy iPad app, to help visitors draft their wills. Make sure to review your will or have your attorney review it for compliance with state law.

Rocket Lawyer

Rocket lawyer is a popular legal document website. Their site provides information to users in order to assist them with determining whether or not using the site for will drafting is a good idea. This site offers comprehensive services including additional documents that fall under will drafting such as addendums, and they offer users the ability to speak or online chat with a lawyer .

Using Your Lawyer

When your lawyer writes your will, you still have to go through the steps of making a list and appointing your executor. Lawyers will usually provide you with a questionnaire that helps you gather all of the information about your estate including who you would like to serve as your executor and back up executors. Once you return the list, the lawyer will draw up your will and then call you in for an appointment to get your signature.

Consult Your State Law

Each state has different documentary requirements, i.e. how many witnesses needed, who can serve as witnesses, and details on what is required for will to be deemed valid. Make sure you consult your state's statutes so you know exactly what your will must have to be valid. Invalid wills often land your estate in probate, which means that the court will go through the lengthy and tedious process of establishing the validity of your will. If you have any questions on whether something is correct or experience any confusion when reading the law, then you should probably hire an attorney.

Protect Your Family

A number of people think that drawing up a will should be reserved until you are older. If you have any assets, you should draw up a will because unfortunately life can be very uncertain. As you get older and add more assets, get married, have kids, and inherit property due to the passing of family; you will definitely need to undergo more advanced financial planning. Your will should be updated as your life changes. One benefit to paying an attorney is that they will often continue to update your original will for zero or little costs to you.

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How to Write a Will: Your Step-by-Step Guide