You don’t have to spend your life savings on your estate planning -- in fact, most homeowners with a simple estate and less than $1 million in assets can write a basic will themselves, without the expense involved in hiring an attorney. Writing your own will is relatively easy and inexpensive, and affords you the flexibility to update your estate plan whenever your circumstances demand it.
Draft a list of your assets, including all real property, investments, cash and large personal property. Draft a separate list of your beneficiaries and make a note how you will divide these assets among them. Also, decide who will inherit the “rest and residue” of your assets, which is everything you own other than the assets you explicitly bequeathed to your beneficiaries.
Read More: What Is the Format for Writing a Will?
Start a new typewritten document and title it “Last Will & Testament of (Your Name).” Below this, enter your current physical address and Social Security number. Declare this document as your final will, and revoke any previous will or codicil you may have established, even if you this is the first will you have ever written.
Create a new section, titled “Family Relationships,” and define your marital relationship, if any, as well as any prior marriages and their subsequent termination dates. If you are not and have never been married, state as such. Then, list your biological and adopted children -- whether minor or adult -- along with their corresponding dates of birth and Social Security numbers, even if you intend to disinherit them. If you have no biological or adopted children, state as such.
Create a new section titled, “Appointment of Guardian(s).” Define whom you appoint as the guardian of your minor children after your passing. Include at least one alternative in the event your first choice is unwilling or unable to serve as guardian.
Note that if your children’s other parent is still living at the time of your passing, he will assume custody of the children by default, even if you appoint another guardian in your will and/or explicitly exclude the parent as a potential guardian.
Create a new section titled “Appointment of Administrator(s).” Define whom you appoint to serve as executor of your will, and provide any special powers or restrictions you wish to grant to her. As with your children’s guardian, you should appoint at least one alternative executor in the event your first choice is unable to serve.
Create a new section titled “Beneficiaries.” Using the list of your assets you initially drafted, name each individual beneficiary and describe, in detail, the property or asset they are to inherit. When finished, define a “Rest & Residue” clause, and name your one beneficiary to inherit any remaining property from your estate not explicitly bequeathed to any other person named within the will. If you are explicitly disinheriting anyone from your will, define a clause, titled “Excluded as Beneficiary,” and list the full name of each person you are disinheriting.
Leave blank spaces for your signature and the signature of your witnesses. Proofread your entire will and print a copy when finished. Do not sign your will at this time.
Sign the will in the presence of at least two disinterested witnesses, who must also sign your will at this time. Both witnesses should provide their full names and addresses so that they may be contacted in the future should they need to testify to the veracity of your signature.
Make a copy of your signed will, and store both the copy and the original for safekeeping. A fireproof lockbox or filing cabinet is a good choice. Instruct your closest relatives where your will is located and how to find it in the event of your passing, so they may file your will for probate after your death.
Remember that you can only bequeath property in which you have a whole or divisible interest -- if you are married, for example, you cannot bequeath your marital home to anyone other than your spouse, as she holds the same separate-but-whole interest in the property as you.
- "Drawing Wills"; Jule E. Stocker, et al.; 2000
- "Drafting Wills, Trusts, and Other Estate Planning Documents"; Kevin D. Millard; 2006
Carrie Ferland is a practicing civil litigation defense attorney in the Philadelphia Area. As an author, her work has been featured in various legal publications for over 10 years. Ferland is a 2000 graduate of Pennsylvania State University and completed her Juris Doctorate and Master of Business Administration with the Dickinson School of Law. She is currently pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in English.