How To Make a Will

Writing a will is likely the most crucial step in estate planning, but in 2021, around 67% of American adults reported not having a will.
The primary goal of writing a will is to name beneficiaries who will inherit all of your possessions. Your beneficiaries could be family members or close ones, or a charitable organization. You’ll also appoint an executor, who will be in charge of carrying out the wishes stated in the will.
This article will explain how to make a will with or without a lawyer and how to amend one, as well as typical pitfalls to avoid during the process.

How To Make a Will

#1. Determine the type of will you need.

There are numerous forms of wills, but most people only need a simple will, sometimes known as a last will and testament. If you are undecided, you can review the many types of wills and decide which one is best for you.

A living trust may be a better alternative for you if you have a large number of assets, operate a business, or have a complicated estate. This is something that an estate attorney could assist you with.

#2. Determine which assets you want to include in your will.

Make a list of all the items and accounts you own when you are composing your will. These are your assets, and the next step is to pick who you want to inherit when you die. This list should include the following items:

  • Property, such as your home, automobiles, and other real estate.
  • Bank accounts and retirement plans
  • Life insurance policies
  • Pets: Most people consider their pets to be members of their family, however, they are legally considered property. Make a will that includes a trusted carer for your pet.
  • Personal possessions or family heirlooms: If you have costly or emotional objects, such as your grandmother’s old tea set, vintage jewelry, or anything else, you can name specific persons in your will. That way, your loved ones will know exactly what is essential to you and where you want it to go after you die.

#3. Determine who will inherit your assets.

Following you’ve compiled a list of all your assets, it’s time to decide who will receive each of them following your death. These people are known as beneficiaries. You may just want to leave everything to your spouse and children if you have a family. However, your beneficiaries could include extended family, acquaintances, and even charities that are important to you.

You should specify who you want to receive each of your assets in your will. Please be specific! Your loved ones will appreciate receiving your instructions during a tough moment for them. Specificity is also important if your will is going through probate court. Some people like to solicit feedback from their loved ones while writing their wills, especially for goods that cannot be divided (such as family heirlooms or property). Telling your loved ones exactly what to expect from your will can help to avoid confusion or surprises later on.

One thing to keep in mind: the beneficiaries you name in your will and testament cannot overrule what’s on a deed or title. For example, if both your name and your husband’s name are on your house deed, the house will transfer to your spouse even if you try to allocate it to someone else in your will. This also applies to direct beneficiaries named on assets such as life insurance policies and 401(k) accounts.

#4. Appoint an executor to your will.

Your will’s executor is the person who will read your will and carry out your final desires. They will distribute your property to your beneficiaries, pay your debts, and more.

Simply write their name in your will to appoint an executor. Because it might be a hard position with many obligations, you should hire someone who is dependable, organized, and trustworthy. Many people designate their spouse, adult child, or a trusted friend to assume the job; however, keep in mind that this may add to their grief. You might even hire an accountant or an attorney and pay them a fee directly from your estate.

Being a will executor is a tremendous responsibility. Once you’ve decided on an executor, notify them so you can ensure they’re willing to carry on the duty before naming them in your will. You can also name a backup executor in case your primary executor is unable or unable to serve when the time comes.

#5. Appoint guardians for minor children.

If you have children under the age of 18, you should name a guardian in your will. When you die, your child’s other parent will normally be granted sole legal guardianship. However, if both of you die at the same time, you can use your will to name a guardian for your children.

Being a guardian is a major responsibility, so talk to your nominated guardian and make sure they’re up to the position. This should be someone you trust to raise your children in the manner that you would like them to be raised. As with an executor, you can appoint a backup guardian in the event that your primary guardian is unable to perform their duties. Some people lay money aside for their assigned guardians to aid with the financial burden of having extra children in their household.

Appointing a guardian for your little children in your will may be one of the most crucial things you do. If you die without naming a guardian and your child’s other parent is unable to care for them, the court will appoint a guardian on your behalf. If no volunteers come forward, your child may become a ward of the state and enter the foster care system.

#6. Make a charitable contribution.

This is an optional step, but you can name charitable organizations as beneficiaries in your will. You can give to charity a variety of assets, including real land, personal property, a portion of your life insurance policy, or investments. There is an optional section in FreeWill’s free online will form where you may easily add your favorite charities as beneficiaries in your will.

#7. Sign your will in the presence of witnesses to make it legally binding.

This is a key step: To make your will legally binding, you must sign it in your own handwriting once you have completed it. Most states require you to sign your will in the presence of two witnesses, who must also sign it. Your executor, guardians, or anyone who inherits something from your will cannot be your witnesses. They could, however, be housemates, neighbors, or other buddies.

#8. Keep your will in a secure location.

After you and your witnesses have signed your will, keep it in a safe and easily accessible location. This might be in your home’s fireproof safe, a safe deposit box, or at a reputable attorney’s office.

In addition to your will, you should gather and maintain other crucial estate planning documents in the same location. Titles and deeds, life insurance policy details, funeral instructions, and online password information are all included. This makes it simple for your will executor to locate all of your crucial paperwork after you’ve died.

#9. Inform your executor and loved ones of the location and access information for your will documents.

Your will is only useful if your loved ones are able to find it. Once you’ve stored all of your estates planning paperwork, inform your will executor and family of their location and how to retrieve them.

#10. Update your will anytime your life circumstances change significantly.

In general, you should update your will every five years or whenever a qualifying life event occurs. This includes the following:

  • Getting married or getting divorced
  • Possession of children or grandkids
  • Purchasing a Home
  • Changing states (because will requirements differ from state to state)
  • If one of your executors or beneficiaries dies,

How to Make a Will Without a Lawyer

Making a will is simpler than you might believe. And if your estate is small, you can probably avoid hiring a lawyer (hooray! no hourly costs!) and instead use a simple will template. Take our fast and simple survey to see if a state-specific template will work for you.
There are times when you will need the assistance of an attorney. Here are a few examples:

  • You have a sizable estate, are concerned about tax implications, and are considering putting your fortune in a trust.
  • You have assets in another country.
  • You wish to leave someone out of your will.
  • You wish to remove someone from an existing will.
  • You have a special needs child who will require financial support, medical care, or physical assistance for the rest of their life.

In any of those cases, you should consult with an attorney.

But if you want to know how to make a will without a lawyer, we’ve got you covered. You can prepare a simple will to take care of the essentials, such as your real property (land and buildings), children, and personal property (clothing, home furnishings, and furniture, automobiles)—all online. Isn’t it fantastic? With the necessary signatures, an online will is just as legal as one prepared by a lawyer.

Making a Will Online

Make a will online if it’s the simplest and most cost-effective approach to protect your loved ones after your death. If you decide that a simple online will is best for you, we recommend that you first select a reliable online organization that sells a will unique to your state and then make one personalized to your individual needs.

A decent online provider will also allow you to set up your durable powers of attorney, such as a financial power of attorney and a medical power of attorney, at the same time you draft your will—yet another of those adult obligations.

Remember that making a will protects those you care about at a difficult moment in their lives.

You Need to Know These Things Before Changing a Will

It’s natural to expect that your will and estate planning documents will need to modify as things change.
Before making any changes to your will, you should:

  • Check that the executor of your will is still capable of carrying out that job.
  • Check to see if your children’s legal guardians are still willing to take on that responsibility.
  • Notify the executor if any beneficiaries need to be removed from the will for whatever reason.
  • Consider whether the value of your estate has changed significantly.

You can make changes to your will by signing a codicil, which works as a minor amendment or addition. This can be accomplished by putting down any revisions and signing and dating the codicil document. Make careful to follow any state-specific laws concerning witnesses for your codicil. This document should be kept in a secure location, ideally alongside your original will.

Is It Possible to Disinherit Someone in Your Will?

You can leave your property to anybody you desire, with a few crucial limitations. You can even use your will to directly disinherit certain people.

The following are the exceptions: In a common law state, your spouse has the right to half of your property. If you live in a community property state, unless you’ve legally made different arrangements, your spouse already owns half of your estate.

Can Someone Contest My Will After I Die?

In court, very few wills are challenged. When they are, it is usually by a close relative who feels cheated out of a portion of the deceased person’s estate. To have an entire will invalidated, someone must go to court and prove that it contains a fatal fault, such as a forged signature, being of sound mind when you made the will, or being improperly influenced by someone.

What Information Do You Need to Make a Will?

When writing your will, you may need to undertake some preliminary research to gather specific information. Depending on your situation, you may need the full names (and potentially addresses) of your children, beneficiaries, executors, and guardians. You may also need the names and numbers of financial accounts, descriptions and locations of certain objects, and information about any debts you wish to forgive.

Do You Need to Have Your Will Notarized?

No, you do not need to get your will notarized to make it valid. You do, however, need two witnesses to sign it. In several states, you can also make your will “self-proving,” which does necessitate notarization.

What Happens if I Pass Away Without a Will?

If you do not make a will or utilize another legal procedure to transfer your property when you die, state law will determine what happens to your property. It will usually go to your spouse and children, or if you don’t have either, to your other closest relatives. If no relatives can be discovered to inherit your property, the state will take it. In the absence of a will, a court will decide who will care for your minor children and their property if the other parent is unable or incompetent to do so.

How Can I Make Changes to My Will?

You can change your will as long as you are alive. A codicil can be used if your adjustments are reasonably straightforward and can be communicated explicitly. A codicil is a new document that you add to your existing will that specifies the changes you intend to make. Your codicil, like your will, must be signed by you and two witnesses.

However, in most situations, it is just as simple—and more obvious—to cancel your present will and make a new one.

Is It Possible for Me to Revoke My Will?

You have the right to revoke your will at any moment. The best way to revoke your will is to make a new one that revokes all of your previous wills.

Making a Will with Assistance

Because writing a will is such a complicated procedure, you may want to employ the assistance of a professional to make sure that you do it right. Typically, this assistance will be provided by a certified lawyer who specializes in estate planning.

Hiring a lawyer can be a daunting endeavor, so reaching out to your immediate network may be a good place to start. Inquire with your friends about their experiences with estate planning attorneys, and do your own research to locate a good fit. Enrolling in one of your company’s legal plans will give you access to a network of lawyers who can assist you with making a will.


This article covers the essentials of how to make your own last will and testament. However, your will is most certainly the most essential document you will write, and it must be properly prepared.

Consider consulting with a local estate planning attorney to examine your draft will or assist you in organizing your estate. Other estate planning forms, such as a living will, power of attorney, and living trust, can also be handled by the same law office.


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