DIY Wills: How to Make a Last Will Without Attorneys

DIY Wills

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

It’s legal to write your own will and, considering how much a lawyer’s will costs, a do-it-yourself solution might be the most cost-effective option. Fortunately, writing your own will is surprisingly easy using online document builders, such as FormsPal. The question is, how do you use one? What other steps worth considering are there?

Should You Write Your Own Will?

If you have a moderate amount of money, your post-life plans for your property aren’t uncommon. As long as everything’s standard and you aren’t anticipating anything complicated, attorney Dennis Sandoval of Sandoval Legacy Group in Riverside, Calif., actually suggests writing your own. You may be able to effectively draft a will in this simple situation.

Sure, you can still get a lawyer to make sure all of your instructions are followed, but you can reduce the time you spend in meetings if you already have a draft of your will. Attorneys are important if you are dealing with complicated matters or a considerable estate.

If you do not fully understand the risks involved, you may want to recruit someone via an attorney network or another channel. This step is especially crucial for situations with higher stakes. 

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Things to Know When Writing Your Own Will

If you choose to write your own will, you’ll need to answer some of these questions:

  • How do you want your property divided? 
  • Who do you want to be in charge of that? 
  • Who do you want to appoint to look after any minors, dependents, or pets?
  • What are the conditions for a legitimate last will and testament in your state?

The executor, the person in charge of carrying out your will, should be someone you can trust. On the other hand, state requirements may be strictly enforced, especially if the will is being challenged. Requirements vary by state, but commonly, you must be at least 18 years old and mentally competent. You must also sign it in front of two to three adult witnesses who are not your heirs. Witnesses must sign the document as well.

DIY Wills

Who Can Write Their Own Will?

There are a few requirements to be able to DIY your will:

  1. The testator, or the person who creates the will, must be at least 18 years old and in good mental health
  2. The will must be written down. While handwritten wills, also known as holographic wills, are legal in about half of the states, it is preferable to have a pre-printed or typewritten document. 
  3. The testator must sign and date the will in the presence of at least two witnesses who are 18 years old or older. Some states demand two witnesses, while others require only one, so please consult your state’s statute beforehand. 
  4. Witnesses are not allowed to be beneficiaries in your will. 
  5. You might also want to notarize your will via a self-proving affidavit. In such a case, witnesses should also be present during the signing process, along with a notary public. This document can help your witnesses avoid unnecessary hassle during probate.

Steps to Writing Your Own Will

1. Start by Composing the Document

Begin by giving the document a title, such as “Last Will and Testament,” and including your full legal name and address. Declare that you are of legal age and sound mind, that this is your last will and testament, and that it revokes all previous wills and codicils. Mention that you are not making this will under duress or threat.

2. Choose an Executor

The executor serves as your representative, managing and distributing your estate’s assets. While most testators name a friend or close family member, you should consider your attorney or financial advisor to avoid any potential issues. Choose a person who is trustworthy, honest, and willing to fulfill this role. Establish an alternate executor just in case your first choice isn’t available. 

3. Appoint a Guardian

If you’re the last surviving parent or the surviving parent is unable to care for your minor or dependent children, it’s essential to name a guardian. If none is stated, the court will appoint someone of their choice. You’d want a person who is not only willing to take on the role of raising your children until they reach the age of 18, but also someone close to your family. Make sure to talk to your children and the potential guardian about this decision. Also, consider naming an alternate guardian in case your first choice becomes unavailable.

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4. Identify the Beneficiaries

Beneficiaries are those who will inherit your assets after you pass away. Your spouse, children, relatives, and close friends may be among your heirs. Include your beneficiaries’ full legal names in your will to eliminate any doubt about their identity. Make sure your pet isn’t listed as a beneficiary. Instead, appoint someone to look after your pet.

5. Make a List of the Assets

List all of your belongings and decide who will inherit what. If you intend to disinherit a family member, make sure to name them in your will, as well as the reasons for your decision. Consult with an attorney if you want to disinherit your spouse. The surviving spouse has the right of election under some state laws, which means they are entitled to a percentage (usually a half) of the estate. Some assets, such as a life insurance policy with a named beneficiary, are not included in the will and must be given to the named beneficiary.

6. Obtain Signatures From Witnesses to Your Will

When you’ve finished writing your will, enlist the help of two witnesses. In front of them, sign and date the will, and then have your witnesses sign and date it, too.

A “self-proving” affidavit is something you may want to have your witnesses sign, so they won’t have to testify in court that the signature on the document is yours. This document requires notarization.

Things to Remember

Keep a copy of your will in a secure location. 

Ensure your will is in a secure place, like a safe deposit box, and inform your executor of its location. You should review your will every two to three years, especially if you have experienced a divorce, birth, death, or other significant life changes.  

Seek out websites that have templates or can help if you need any assistance.

There are numerous online templates available to assist you in drafting your will. An online service such as FormsPal is something you can also use to assist you with the process.