If you do not have children or do not have many assets, you may wish to write your own will. Courts in most states will recognize a will you wrote yourself as long as your will meets all legal requirements. However, it is wise to consult an attorney for advice or to review your finished will. Also, if you have minor children, a great deal of assets or your estate is complicated in some way, you may wish to consult an attorney for help in writing your will.
How to Write Your Will
Title your will. Most states do not require specific wording, as long as it is clear that the document is your final will, according to the American Bar Association Guide to Wills and Estates. Many people choose to begin with the phrase "this is the last will and testament of," followed by their name and the date, according to FindLaw. You should also include a sentence stating that, by making this will, you are revoking any and all wills you have previously made. You may write your will on a blank piece of paper, or you can purchase preprinted forms for making your will.
Name your executor. Your executor is the person who will carry out the instructions in your will when you die and who will also pay your debts and settle your estate, according to FindLaw. Your executor can be any competent adult. Most people choose a family member or close friend as executor, but you may choose anyone you trust to carry out your wishes. You may wish to name a backup executor in case your first choice cannot perform the duties of an executor when you die, according to FindLaw.
Give your executor the authorization to pay your debts. You can usually do this in one sentence, stating that you authorize your executor to pay any remaining debts; the expenses of your funeral, burial and last illness; and any expenses that come from administering the estate, according to the American Bar Association Guide to Wills and Estates.
Name your guardian, if you have minor children. The guardian is the person who will take legal and physical custody of your children when you are gone. In most states, guardianship passes immediately to the living parent when one parent dies, unless that parent is incompetent, has given up his or her parental rights, or is otherwise unable to take custody of the children, according to FindLaw. If you do not have minor children, skip this step.
Name your beneficiaries. List the people or charities you would like to see receive a share of your estate when you die. These can be your children, family members, friends, or a wide range of charitable causes or institutions, according to the American Bar Association Guide to Wills and Estates. Also, list any relative you want to exclude from receiving any of your estate. In most states, if you want to exclude a child, you must specifically state that the child has been excluded. Most states will not allow you to exclude your spouse. Even if you state you are excluding your spouse, she is entitled to a share of your estate by law, according to FindLaw.
List the portion of your estate or specific items you wish each of your beneficiaries to receive beside the name of each beneficiary. You may want to include a contingent or "backup" beneficiary to receive the portion of your estate or specific items if the first person dies before you do or cannot be found, according to the American Bar Association.
Write a residuary clause. A residuary clause is a short phrase that covers everything in your estate you did not specifically leave to any beneficiary. Most residuary clauses are a single sentence, leaving the "rest, residue and remainder" of your estate to a particular person or charity, according to the American Bar Association.
Sign your will, but only in the presence of at least two witnesses. In some states, witnesses cannot be people who might inherit something from your estate after you die. Therefore, choose witnesses who are not family members or close friends. Each witness should watch you sign your will, then sign below your name and write that he or she knows who you are and watched you sign your will, according to FindLaw. Keep your will in a safe place, such as a safe deposit box. You do not need to provide your executor with a copy of your will, but it is wise to tell your executor where you are keeping it, according to FindLaw.
Since the laws governing wills vary from state to state, consulting an attorney while writing your will is strongly recommended.
A.L. Kennedy is a professional grant writer and nonprofit consultant. She has been writing and editing for various nonfiction publications since 2004. Her work includes various articles on nonprofit law, human resources, health and fitness for both print and online publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts from the University of South Alabama.