More than half of Americans don't have a will, according to the American Bar Association. Whether due to fear of death or lawyers' bills, many people procrastinate drafting a last testament. Yet a simple will is the task of a few hours, and proper execution is a matter of minutes -- if you understand the few procedural requirements. Those with large holdings or complicated estates may do better with tax and legal advice.
Determine whether you qualify to prepare a will in your state. Generally you must at least 18 years old and of sound mind -- capable of understanding that you are executing your will as well as the nature and extent of your property and the identities of descendants or other relatives.
Read More: How to Fill Out Wills
Prepare your will in writing; oral wills suffice only if death is imminent. Use a statutory will (a state-approved form will) if your state statutes contain such a form, or obtain a form will from the probate court, your lawyer's office or the Internet. Alternatively, draft the will yourself.
Fill in personal, identifying information in a form will, including name, address and age. Next, fill in asset and beneficiary information. Identify property clearly and describe specifically your heir for that property, including first and last name and address. Continue through all your assets. Name a residuary heir to inherit any assets not specifically bequested.
Draft paragraphs setting out the above information in the absence of a form will. Identify yourself, specify that you are of age and sound mind and declare testamentary intention -- an intention to finally dispose of your property by means of this will. Add language describing assets and beneficiaries.
Specify a guardian for your minor children, if appropriate, and select an executor for your will. The executor takes charge of your estate at your death, collecting assets and distributing them according to the terms of your will.
Execute your will. Sign and date the will in the presence of two witnesses. In most states, the witnesses must be of age and impartial; that is, they may not be heirs under your will. They sign and date the will under your signature. Tell the witnesses that they are witnessing your last will and testament before you sign.
Check on the exact procedures for will execution in your state. Ask the probate court for information or search the Internet.
Consider asking an attorney to review your will.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.