How To Write A Will Without A Lawyer

Writing a will can be uncomfortable, requiring you to reflect closely and clinically upon your own mortality and the value of your possessions after you’re gone. Once it’s complete, though, a will is one of the most important documents you will ever create. Wills ensure your last wishes are respected in your absence. But how do you write a will? While the obvious—and most expensive—option is to visit an attorney, there are other options available. Here’s what you need to know.

Four Ways to Write a Will

There are several options to write a will. We’ll take a close look at each so you can decide what works best for you:

Use an Online Paid Service

Similar to companies that provide LLC or registered agent services, there’s no shortage of online will service providers on the market. Online paid services usually advertise as Estate or Trust Planning. Writing a will is typically only one of myriad services provided by companies like these, which may mean these outfits present a good choice for those looking to create powers of attorney, trusts, or other estate planning documents.

We advise only using a company like this if its work will be well-reviewed by professional attorneys to ensure documents will pass legal muster. Be sure to read customer reviews before making a commitment. Depending on the company and services desired, fees can range from a flat fee to a monthly subscription to entirely free use of online templates. Any extra perks offered—like outside legal support, mailing of documents or the easy ability to make future changes—can vary greatly between companies. Some may also require you to download additional software in order to write your will.

Use an In-Person Paid Service (Lawyer or Attorney)

Hiring a lawyer or attorney to write your will is the traditional route most people follow, and for good reason: having a professional closely assist in your process can offer a level of reassurance you’re unlikely to find elsewhere. In-person services are expensive and time-consuming compared to other options. Depending on where you live, finding a professional you trust can be difficult. It is, however, a good idea to consult a lawyer if you have a large estate, complexities such as property in multiple states, or questions about Medicaid planning or trusts.

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Purchase a DIY Template or Kit

You can order a DIY Will Kit over the internet, and even find them on the shelf in some brick-and-mortar stores. These kits come with all the guides, templates and examples you need to write and legally validate your own will. You can find kits matching your country of citizenship to simplify the process regardless of location.

The prices of kits are comparable to or cheaper than using an online paid service, but these kits typically offer only generic wills (e.g., simple wills), so if you know your estate planning is complex or you have plentiful assets, you should consider a paid service to offer you direct support.

Write Your Own

Writing a will might sound daunting, but if you have a straightforward estate, it’s surprisingly easy. You should have some familiarity with legal language before attempting to write a will. If you use a DIY kit or template, much of this will have already been done for you. If you choose to write it entirely yourself, brush up on any legal requirements of your state and country before you do anything else. Each state and country may have different laws surrounding wills and estates and your document more than likely must meet these standards before it is considered valid.

Handwritten wills are known as “holographic wills.” Holographic wills are not accepted in every state and can easily be ruled invalid by the court. Because of this, we do not recommend handwriting the final draft of your own will.

How to Write Your Own Will

With some careful planning and preparation, it’s entirely possible to write your own will. Below is a list of the essential information you will need to include in your will.

(Please note that this list assumes you have a simple and straightforward estate and consequently want to write a simple will. If you have a complex or large estate involving many moving parts, this guide may not be useful to you. Consider instead the benefits of hiring an estate attorney.)

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Essential Information

  1. Write a title. It’s easy to overlook such a simple detail, but it needs to be clear to anyone who picks up this document that it’s your last will and testament. Make sure you include your full legal name somewhere near the beginning of your will. If you have made previous versions of your will, be sure to also mention that your most current document invalidates any previous ones. Include any other names you’ve used.
  2. Name the executor of your will. This is the person responsible for making sure your estate is distributed and settled according to your will. Choose someone you trust. You may also want to choose a back-up executor to be safe.
  3. Name a guardian for any minors. If you have children or are the guardian of any minors, name a guardian. This person takes full legal and physical custody of your children after your death. Guardianship typically passes automatically to any surviving parent as long as the parent can be deemed competent.
  4. Organize and inventory assets. Assets are any possessions clearly belonging to you or that are titled in your name. Personal belongings, pets, property and cash are all considered your assets. Take the time to clearly describe each asset such that when the executor is transferring the asset to its named beneficiary there is no question about its identity. Be sure to check with your state about which assets you cannot include. Trusts or investment accounts, for example, are often not considered part of your simple assets and pass directly to the beneficiaries you have named on those accounts..
  5. Name the beneficiaries. For each asset, name a beneficiary—the person, profit or non-profit organization or other entity to receive your asset(s) once you pass. You can choose one or many. If there is anyone who should not receive the asset in question, be sure to name them as well.
  6. Write your residuary clause. A residuary clause covers everything not left to a specific beneficiary and either not adequately described or anything forgotten when you wrote the assets section of the will. You can choose to leave these “remainders” to a beneficiary or leave it to your executor to handle. Don’t overlook the importance of this clause; it’s unlikely you’ll remember everything you own, especially if this is your first pass at a will. Having a residuary clause is a decent enough fail-safe to let you sleep at night.
  7. Sign your will with witnesses. Check with your state requirements before signing, as different states have varying requirements regarding the number and identity of witnesses. Some states may also require you have your will notarized. No will is legally valid until it has been signed before witnesses.
  8. Store your will someplace safe and update it when necessary. Let somebody—usually your executor—know where to find the most recent copy of your will. Be sure to revisit and update it whenever you experience a big life change: moving (especially because your will may not meet the laws in your new state or country), a large purchase or property investment, a marriage, divorce or death and even your children reaching adult age are all occasions to review your will.
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It may also be a good idea to set aside a regular time, perhaps every other year or so, where you review your will even if no big changes have happened in your life. You may be surprised at what assets you consider important enough to describe two years in the future. Likewise, your opinions on beneficiaries and desires regarding asset division may change. At the least, it is a good way to continue thinking about the future.

Frequently Asked Questions

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