How Do I Create a Will?

How Do I Create a Will?

by Michelle Fabio, Esq., August 2017

If you're wondering “How do I create a will?", there's good news: Making a will can be done quickly and easily on your computer. Just start thinking about who you want to handle your affairs and who you want to inherit what, and you'll be halfway there.

What follows is a more detailed step-by-step guide to creating a will yourself.

How to Make a Will Without a Lawyer in 7 Steps

1. Introduction

Title your document “Last Will and Testament," so there is no misunderstanding regarding your intent as “testator," the person writing the will. State your full name, address, date of birth, and Social Security number, and also write that you are over the age of 18, of sound mind, and not creating the will under duress. Also be clear that this will revokes any previous will or codicil.

2. Executor

Choose your executor, the person who will carry out your wishes as expressed in the will. This can be your spouse, a relative, or even a friend—so long as it is someone you trust and who is willing to accept the responsibility. Also name an alternate executor, in case your first choice can't serve, for whatever reason.

3. Beneficiaries

Your beneficiaries or heirs are those who will inherit your property. Clearly identify them in your will. Usually a testator's spouse and closest relatives are the main beneficiaries, but you can leave your assets to whomever you like, including charitable organizations with whom you've had a strong bond.

If you intend to leave a typical beneficiary, for example, a child, out of your will, you may want to explain why you're doing so to avoid potential challenges to the will later. Some states don't allow the disinheritance of a spouse, though, so be careful there.

4. Property

Your will is intended to distribute your “estate" to your beneficiaries, and your estate includes all of your real and personal property. "Real property" is land and buildings, while "personal property" is all the other kinds of belongings—from vehicles and family heirlooms, to bank accounts and stocks and bonds. The easiest way to start this step is to make a list of everything you own.

You can only bequeath assets owned solely by you, although, in some instances, you may pass your interest in a property to an heir. In your will, you may choose to leave percentages of your estate to heirs (50 percent to spouse, 50 percent to children, divided equally) and/or to leave specific items to specific individuals.

Any assets that include named beneficiaries within the instruments—life insurance policies and pensions, for example—do not need to be included in your will; these proceeds will pass directly to the named beneficiaries. As you're making your will, you may want to take this opportunity to review any current beneficiary designations to be sure they're as you intend them to be.

5. Guardian

If you have minor or dependent children, name a guardian to take over the responsibility of raising them until they reach the age of 18. Usually the other parent assumes guardianship, but specifying your preference in the case that both parents are deceased could avoid a court-appointed guardian later. Discuss all of this with your chosen guardian to make sure they would accept the responsibility.

6. Execution

“Executing" a will just means signing it and making it legally valid. State laws vary regarding requirements, but generally at least two witnesses must sign the will. In some states, witnesses must be disinterested parties—not beneficiaries and/or not an attorney representing you.

7. Storage

Once you have executed your will, store the document in a safe place and let your executor know where to find it.

Final Considerations

For more guidance, you can search for sample wills online. Overall, if you find that writing your will is too complicated, seek professional help; online examples of a will can only take you so far in the process.

Last but certainly not least, revisit your will periodically to be sure it still accurately represents your wishes. Once a year around your birthday is a good time to take account of any births, deaths, marriages, divorces, and other life events that may have affected your will's provisions.

By creating a will and doing this yearly maintenance, you'll be reassuring yourself that your loved ones will be taken care of, and that your wishes will be followed after you're gone, which, after all, are probably two of your biggest reasons for writing the will in the first place.