Ever wondered about how to write a will? Well you probably have if you’re interested in things like your financial well-being or the future of your family. Or maybe the whole subject is a little much for you. Look, we know how hard it can be getting intentional about end-of-life stuff—but it’s also a smart practice that can save those you care about a lot of trouble down the road. With that in mind, we’re going to walk you through the basic steps of how to write a will, then talk about your options to get it done.
What Is a Will?
We can’t jump straight into the steps for how to write a will before first touching on what is a will. A will is a legal document that answers the question, “What do you want to happen when you die?” Your will lays out things like:
- Who you’d like to get your money and property
- Who should become the guardian of your kids or pets
- Who gets to be the executor to manage your estate when you’re gone
- How to handle burial and funeral wishes—like if you want your sister to play a song upon the family accordion at your memorial.
And what about the basic features of a will (the stuff that makes it binding)? That’s pretty simple as well. In order to serve as a valid will, the following must be true of your document:
- You must be 18 years of age or older and of sound mind.
- When making the will, you will need to sign and date it in front of witnesses, and they must also be 18 years of age.
- Beneficiaries of the will cannot be among the witnesses.
- While a typewritten document is universally accepted, about half of states also allow what’s known as a holographic will, which is a fancy term for “handwritten.”
Although there are many different types of wills, a simple will is enough for most people. In fact, the simple will we’re describing in this article is all that 95% of people will need to be set up with a solid estate plan. Hard times fall on everyone eventually, but it’s essential to think ahead now and have a plan in place that protects your family (and your wishes) before that day comes.
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How to Write a Will
Here are the steps you’ll take as you get into writing a will.
1. Create the document.
The document should be titled “Last Will and Testament.” It needs to include your full legal name and address. In the declaration paragraph, you need to mention . . .
- You’re of legal age and of sound mind
- That this is your last will and testament
- That this revokes all previously made codicils and wills
- That you are not making this will under duress
2. Choose an executor.
This will be the person who acts as your representative after death to manage your estate. And naming just one executor is not enough—you need to pick an alternate as well, in case your first choice becomes unavailable by the time of your passing away.
3. Appoint a guardian.
In the event you are the only remaining parent of a dependent child or children, or in case the surviving parent is unable to fulfill the duty, you need to name someone as a guardian. This is absolutely not the kind of decision you want a court making for you or your kids! Name that person in your will, and then be sure to include an alternate in case your primary choice is unable to do the job.
4. Pick the beneficiaries.
Who do you want to leave your stuff and money for? This is where you list every single person you wish to inherit any of your property. And be sure you include their full legal names in your will so there’s absolutely no confusion about the identity of who you’re designating.
5. Bequeath your assets.
Bequeath is kind of a funny word, right? It just means leave behind for someone. So, who gets what? Writing this part of your will doesn’t need to be a chore—it could actually be fun deciding who you’d like to bless with your various possessions! Just list each item and who you want to give it to.
6. Find witnesses for the signing.
You’ll need two people to serve as witnesses when you sign the will. Without a validly witnessed signature, the will is worthless. As mentioned above, both witnesses must be at least 18 years of age, and neither one can be included among the designated beneficiaries of the will. Not only should you date and sign it yourself, but both of your witnesses should do the same as well. Although having the will notarized is not strictly necessary, we highly recommend it. As an added layer of protection, you could also get your witnesses to sign what’s known as a self-proving affidavit. That could save them the trouble of someday needing to testify in court that the signature on your will is actually yours. Keep the affidavits with your will.
7. Keep it safe.
Keep your signed will in a safe place and be sure your executor knows its location. Reviewing the contents of your will every few years is also a good idea, especially after such major life changes as marriage, divorce or the birth of a child.
Although writing your own will is definitely doable for many people, other approaches might also be worth considering. In some cases, an online will is a convenient and affordable method for your needs. In other situations, a lawyer might be advisable.
Do You Need a Lawyer to Write a Will?
The short answer is no. For larger or more complex estates, working with a lawyer can be a very wise move. However, for the purposes of most people’s estates you won’t need a lawyer to write a simple will as outlined above. On the other hand, even to write a simple will, working with a lawyer is one of several options you may choose to take, depending on your needs and comfort level with writing the will. (If you’d like a quick way to decide whether to use a lawyer for your will’s needs, take our Online Will vs. Lawyer quiz here!)
What Are My Options for Writing a Will?
- As already discussed, you can write your will yourself.
- You can work with a lawyer.
- You can use what are known as do-it-yourself will kits or templates. These kits have more detailed language than you’ll be able to come up with while writing your own will, but that’s no guarantee that they’ll be any more authoritative in a court of law. At the same time, they can be pretty expensive to buy, while writing your own is obviously free.
- For most people, we recommend you write a will online using attorney-built forms at prices far more affordable than hiring a lawyer.
Who Needs a Will?
The answer is everyone! Yes, that includes you. No matter your season of life, you need that document that clearly spells out your wishes regarding what you want to happen to your stuff when you’re gone. And again, it’s pretty easy to write one. Many choose to write their own wills, which is great. But we think working with attorney-built forms is a really wise approach for most people.
The good news is that writing a will is not time-consuming or expensive. You can create your own will online with RamseyTrusted provider Mama Bear Legal Forms in less than 20 minutes! All you need to do is plug in a few answers, and the rest of the work is done for you.
Writing a will is one of the most important and most loving things you can do for your family. Get this done today!