A will may be one of the most important documents in your possession. The contents of your will set forth your final instructions to your loved ones when you die. A person reading your will should have a clear picture of what you desired in terms of funeral and burial procedures, and/or how your property is to be distributed. With such an important document, you might think that only a lawyer or an estate planner can draft a will. While it is a good idea to see these specialists about your will, you have all the tools you need to draft one for yourself.
Demonstrate that you possess the legal capacity to write a will, which include being capable of entering into a contract. Generally, this means you must have reached the age of majority in your state, typically age 18. You must "be of sound mind," which means that you are capable of making rational decisions on your own about the disposition of your property. To meet this requirement, you must understand the extent of your property (knowing what your property is and how much you have). You must also know "the objects of your bounty," if any, which is a legal way of saying you know who your family is and your relation to them. You do not possess the requisite mental capacity if, for example, you do not have any children but believe that you do. That might indicate that you are delusional.
Write a statement evidencing that you have "testamentary intent," which is the intent to make a testamentary document (a will) and to have that document control the disposition of your property. A common phrase written into most wills is the following: "I, [insert name], being of sound mind and disposition hereby write and intend this document to be my last will and testament." Use similar language as an introduction to your will and a precursor to making your gifts.
List your testamentary gifts. There are no magic words needed to write a will. If you have testamentary intent and meet the "sound mind" requirements, you can write a document and intend it to be your will. Once you have written the statement of testamentary intent, list specific gifts and describe them with particularity. For example: "I leave the picture of Steve Yzerman that hung on the wall in my basement to my cousin [insert name]." Being specific avoids confusion about what the gift is and who is to receive the gift.
It is not always feasible to list every piece of property you own and give it to someone so include a residuary clause, which is a blanket statement that gives the left-over estate to some individual or entity (such as a charity). These usually follow the list of specific devises (as set forth in Step 3). After you make specific gifts, add the residuary clause. No specific language is needed, but for clarity, here is an example: "The rest, residue, and remainder of my estate shall go to my spouse, [insert name], to keep or distribute as [he or she] sees fit."
Date and sign the will in the presence of two witnesses and have them sign the will. Although state law varies, with some states requiring the signatures of two witnesses and some states requiring no witness signatures, having at least two witness signatures will make the probate process faster and easier. The witnesses can be anyone, but they must be able to legally sign a document (typically meaning they are adults). If you have two adult children, they may usually act as witnesses even if they receive something in the will. Two strangers willing to sign your will are also acceptable. Some states also require that your will be notarized.
Requirements for a valid will varies by state so check your state's wills statutes to make sure that you have fulfilled all of the requirements. Seal the document and keep it in a safe place. If your will is lost or destroyed, then your final wishes may not be carried out.
This article was written for informative purposes only. It does not purport to give legal advice. Readers with serious legal issues should seek an attorney.