You'll have no trouble finding fill-in-the-blanks will forms at no cost or low cost, but remember that you sometimes get what you pay for. Not every preformatted will is prepared with your state's laws in mind, and an invalid will is the legal equivalent of no will at all. It's best to find will templates from local sources, or templates that are specifically tailored to your state's laws and rules.
What is a Will?
A will is a document that describes how your property should be distributed when you die. A will can designate what will happen to your real estate, household furnishings, motor vehicles and even intangible assets like stocks and bonds, intellectual property and bank accounts. Each state has its own requirements for a will and its own laws about what a will must include to be a valid, binding document.
Using Form Wills
Wills are legal documents that must be written with state laws in mind. Since state laws differ, you need to be familiar with your own, hire an attorney to advise you or select a form will that is guaranteed to meet all of your state's legal requirements. If you prepare a will that doesn't meet state requirements, it will be tossed out by the probate court, and your estate will pass, instead, to close family members as set out in your state's intestacy statutes.
Will requirements vary from state to state, but the states typically have very similar rules about what a valid will needs to include. One variation between states is that some states, like New Jersey, recognize handwritten wills as long as they are written in the deceased's own handwriting. Other states, like New York, do not recognize handwritten wills. In some states, like North Carolina, even oral wills are recognized as long as they can be validated. Common requirements for wills include:
- The will must be signed by one or more disinterested parties
- The individual signing the will must be of sound mind when signing it
- The will must be signed and dated
Look for Form Templates Online
Look for free will forms online from your state bar association, the professional association of attorneys in your jurisdiction. Alternatively, find out if your state has a statutory will. If so, you may be able to download the form or get one from the court. Statutory will forms are prepared by the legislature and contain everything your state requires to prepare a valid will. Some third-party sources such as Do It Yourself Documents, eForms and LawDepot offer generic or state-specific will forms, which you may use at no cost.
Ask a Lawyer for Help
Another great resource for finding last will and testament templates is an estate planning lawyer. If you choose to work with a lawyer to handle your estate planning, she can provide you with a sample will template to follow and walk you through the process of writing your will. She can also answer any questions you have about writing a will and using other estate planning vehicles, like a living trust or a life insurance policy. A lawyer will cost more than using a form template, but sometimes getting it done right is worth the expense, if you can afford it.
Free sample last will and testament templates can be found online and at your local courthouse.
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.