If you die without a will, the probate court divides your property according to state law. You can make your own will to ensure your personal wishes are honored if you are 18 years or older and mentally competent. You can type your will or use a fill-in-the-blank statutory form that complies with your state law. Some states also recognize handwritten wills. Check your state law to answer specific questions about drafting your will.
Familiarize yourself with some standard will provisions before drafting. A will generally appoints an executor who is directed to gather your estate, pay your debts and distribute your assets to heirs. You can also appoint guardians for your minor children to oversee their personal care and financial assets. Generally, you categorize your assets as personal, real or residual property. Personal property includes tangible goods; real property comprises real estate interests; and your residual covers all other assets, such as cash and investments. You can purchase a will kit and will-writing software with sample wills and example provisions at local office supply stores or online.
Some states recognize pre-printed statutory wills that allow you to select predetermined estate planning choices. Statutory wills vary between states. For example, Michigan statutory wills limit cash gifts to two people or charities. California gives you the option of leaving your entire estate to your spouse or domestic partner. Statutory wills include standard provisions, such as for the appointment of executors and guardians. Statutory wills are useful when they provide choices that meet your estate planning objectives.
You can personally tailor your will to meet your goals by typing it out to include specific terms. You must be clear when identifying heirs and property in your will. For example, you own two boats and your brother and nephew are both named Joe. A provision stating, "I leave my boat to Joe" is not clear enough for a judge to enforce. A provision such as, "I leave my sail boat to my nephew, Joe Smith Jr., and my speed boat to my brother, Joe Smith Sr." is clear and enforceable.
Some states permit wills to be holographic, or handwritten, in lieu of typewritten or preprinted wills. A holographic will must be in your own handwriting. You can do all of the same things in a holographic will as you would in a typewritten or statutory will. For example, you can name your heirs and the property they should receive, and appoint executors and guardians. Holographic wills, like typewritten and form wills, must state clear terms.
You must generally date your will at the time you sign it. If you use a statutory or typewritten will, it must be witnessed by two people. Generally, witnesses are disinterested parties to your will and must be at least 18 years old. Witnesses are not usually required for holographic wills. However, state laws regarding holographic wills do vary, as they do for statutory and typed wills. For example, Illinois does require witnesses even for holographic wills.