Creating a simple will – not to be confused with a statutory will – hinges on what you want to achieve with the document. If you have a complex estate you want to apportion among many beneficiaries, your will probably isn’t going to be simple. If, on the other hand, you just want to cover a few basics, your will is likely to involve minimal fuss.
A handful of states offer statutory wills – prescribed forms where you can just fill in the blanks – but Arizona isn’t one of them. You’ll have to prepare your own will if you don’t want to hire a lawyer. A will kit can give you guidance regarding format and necessary language, but basic wills cover three major issues: who gets your property, who will care for your minor children and who will oversee probate of your estate. You can accomplish the latter by naming an executor or personal representative in the document, and you might want to check with the individual you nominate to make sure she’s willing to take on the job. If you have children, you’ll want to name a guardian to care for them after your death. Your children’s inheritances can complicate things a little. They can’t handle their own property until the age of majority so you’ll have to name a conservator to manage it for them until that time. If you don’t, the court will appoint someone. Another option is to use your will to set up a testamentary trust to hold your children’s assets until they come of age, but this is a more complex undertaking requiring specific language so you might need the help of an attorney.
Not all your property must pass through probate, so you can simplify your will by removing some things from the equation. For example, if you name your estate as beneficiary of your life insurance policy, your executor must then transfer the funds to your will’s beneficiaries. But if you name individuals as beneficiaries, the proceeds go directly to them, bypassing probate, allowing you to leave the asset out of your will. You can take real estate out of your probate estate by naming your beneficiary as a joint tenant with rights of survivorship – the property would go directly to your co-owner at your death. You can set up bank and other financial accounts with payable-on-death or transfer-on-death designations in Arizona. These provisions direct the money to a beneficiary outside of probate. Even if you write your will yourself, you might want to consult with a lawyer to correctly identify your probate and non-probate assets. Non-probate assets are property your will does not have to address.
Making it Official
When you’ve completed your will, you must make it official. This means signing it in front of two witnesses and having them sign it as well. Arizona law doesn’t prohibit your witnesses from also being beneficiaries. Your will doesn’t have to be notarized, but if you want to spare your witnesses some trouble after your death, you can self-prove it and this additional document does require notarization. It’s simply an affidavit in which your witnesses attest to the fact that they saw you sign your will and that you appeared to be of sound mind at the time. If they sign it, they don’t have to testify to this information in court after your death. Your executor can elect an informal probate process in Arizona if your will is clear, concise and none of your beneficiaries or heirs raise any objections to it.
Arizona recognizes holographic wills so you have the option of writing your document by hand. In this case, you don’t even have to have it witnessed if you don’t want to, but you should date it. It’s important that the entire document be in your handwriting, so it might be easier to just buy a will kit or first draft it on your computer after you determine the provisions you want to include.