When you write your last will and testament by hand, it’s called "holographic" in legal terms. Some states require witnesses for holographic wills; others do not. Some states don’t accept handwritten wills at all. Check with your state’s website or consult with an attorney to be sure of your area's guidelines.
Go online to access a will format that's valid in your particular state. This will provide you with specific language you should include to make sure your will is legal. It can also tell you what the requirements are for a holographic will in your area — whether you need witnesses, for example. If you don’t have access to the Internet, the reference sections in most libraries should also have a format that you can follow.
Read More: Is a Self Made Will Legal if Notarized?
Decide to whom you would like to leave your assets and possessions. Make a list of all other provisions you want to include in your will, such as a guardian for your children if you have any, burial arrangements, and who you would like to act as executor to carry out the terms of your will and guide it through the probate process.
Write your will completely in your own handwriting. If you print out a form from the Internet and fill in the blanks in your handwriting, it may not be valid. Some states require that your will contain no typing or computer printing at all. State clearly at the top that this is your last will and testament. If you ever wrote a will previously, state that you're revoking it in favor of this one.
Number each page of your will when you've completed it, including the total number of pages. For example, if it’s two pages long, write at the bottom of each page, “1 of 2” and “2 of 2.” Staple the pages together.
Arrange for witnesses to watch you sign your will, if your state requires them. The number you’ll need depends on the laws of your state. When you check the library or the Internet for a format, you should also be able to learn how many witnesses your state requires. Generally, even if they’re not necessary in your state, it doesn’t hurt to include them anyway, but check with an attorney or legal aid service in your area to be sure. You may want to also have your will notarized.
Sign and date your will in the presence of your witnesses, then have them sign it as well.
Have each of your witnesses sign a self-proving affidavit. This is a statement that they watched you sign your will and they’re certain that the handwriting of both the will and your signature is your own. Attach the affidavits to your will. This will prevent any of your heirs from contesting your will by saying you didn’t really write it.
After you’ve completed your will, consider having a professional look it over to make sure it contains no ambiguities or errors that will prevent the probate court from accepting it. Probate law is complex, so even if you’ve gotten your witnesses right and everything is in your handwriting, you might have overlooked something that will invalidate your will.
Some states allow you to file your will with the probate court before your death. If yours doesn't, put it in a safe place and tell your executor where he can find it.
Beverly Bird is a practicing paralegal who has been writing professionally on legal subjects for over 30 years. She specializes in family law and estate law and has mediated family custody issues.