They say you get what you pay for, but with a last will and testament, this isn't necessarily the case. If you have limited assets and plan to leave them to only one or a few people at your death, it is entirely possible to draft your own will for little or no cost using statutory or form wills or, in some states, your own pen and paper. Keep in mind that a will is a legal document and that each state has specific rules concerning signatures and witnesses.
Validity of Legal Documents
Wills are legal documents, so regardless of whether you draft one yourself or hire an attorney to do it for you, you must follow your state's rules. Most states do not require formal language within the body of the will; as long as you specify who will get your property when you die with sufficient clarity, you are likely fulfilling state requirements. On the other hand, since a will only comes into effect when the person who created it dies, states have signature and witness requirements aimed at ensuring that the testator -- the person whose name appears at the bottom of the will -- actually made the will, that she was capable of making the will and intended the document to be her will.
Some states require two witnesses, others three. While some states also require that the witnesses actually see you sign the will, others do not. In some states, you can arrange for your witnesses to sign in the presence of a notary so that they do not have to return to court during probate to testify. Find out your state's requirements before you make a will even if this means hiring an attorney, although most courts and bar associations offer pamphlets that spell out the legal requirements. It does you little good to make a will free of charge if it turns out to be invalid.
Form Wills and Statutory Wills
A form will is a fill-in-the-blanks will; all you do is add information identifying yourself and your beneficiaries, and then sign it along with the appropriate witnesses. You can find form wills free online or in office supply stores. To be sure that the form you use is in compliance with your state requirements, obtain a will form from your local probate court, court self-help website or law library. It's equally valid to use a statutory will form if you live in a state that offers such a will. Statutory wills are approved by the state legislature and fulfill all the requirements in that particular state.
Some states, like California, allow holographic wills -- wills that are handwritten, dated and signed by the person making the will. These wills are free to prepare, as long as you have paper and pen -- and no witnesses are required. However, before you sit down at the desk to begin, research the rules for holographic wills in your state and be certain your estate is small and your bequests simple. "I leave everything to my spouse" is more appropriate for a holographic will than including a complex formula to divide up a large estate among numerous beneficiaries.
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