How to Write a Will: The Ultimate Guide

Wills provide a way forward. They make a person’s estate easier to manage, and they respect a person’s final wishes. 

Yet 68 percent of Americans lack a will. One reason why is that many people don’t know how to write a will. Thankfully, you can learn in just a few minutes. 

How can you begin writing your will? Who can help you develop one? What should your will include, and when should you revise it? 

Answer these questions and you can draft a will of legal standing today. Here is your quick guide. 

Consider Your Situation 

Take a look at your estate. This includes your physical belongings like clothes and electronic appliances. 

Go to your bank and get a good idea of your finances. Evaluate how much money you have in your account. If you have investments in businesses or real estate, figure out where they are and how much they are worth. 

Get the names of the beneficiaries on your accounts, including insurance policies. Those names supersede the names on your will.

If you plan on giving someone else your house, you have to take action now. Talk to the beneficiary and work out a solution.  

Research Different Types of Will-Making Tools

If you are writing your will yourself, you can find some tools to help you. There are not necessarily multiple types of wills. All of the tools produce documents of legal and personal standing. 

Flat forms are fill-in-the-blank documents. You can download one onto your computer and add in your personal details. These forms are best for people with simple or small estates. 

Statutory forms are available in a few states, namely California. They are fill-in-the-blank documents that the state legislature provides. Residents can use them for free, but they cannot edit them in any way. 

Books provide instructions on how to draft and enact wills. Most books help create flat forms. But you can find ones that give general advice on how to write a simple will. 

You can download software that asks you questions. The program then uses your answers to write your will for you. You can find similar programs online that you do not need to download. 

Hire an Estate Planning Attorney 

Writing your own will can be a substantial undertaking. An estate planning attorney can help you determine your estate and then draft the perfect document. 

Take your estate documents to them and ask them for their input. They may advise you to pursue a trust instead of a will.

A trust is a private arrangement that lets you avoid probate, which is the process of transferring assets. This can save months of time and decreases the amount of taxes your estate has to pay. 

Keep your attorney’s information. When you draft your will, you need to name an executor.

It is a very good idea to name your attorney rather than a family member. Your attorney has the impartiality that someone in your family does not have. 

Include Important People 

There are no specific things you must include in your will. But there are people you should name. 

You should have an executor who will distribute your assets. This should be someone who is reliable and impartial, like an attorney or financial advisor. 

If you have dependent children, you should appoint a guardian. The guardian will take care of your children until they turn 18.

It should be someone you and they know and trust. Most parents name their parents or siblings. You can pick someone outside the family, but you should talk to them before naming them. 

As an extra precaution, you should name an alternate guardian. This is a good idea if you are naming an elderly relative as the primary guardian. 

You should name several beneficiaries. You can name family members, close friends, and work associates. 

You cannot name your pet as a beneficiary. You should find someone who will care for it. 

Provide Specific Details 

List out all of your assets, even small ones. Use precise language to describe what you own.

“A chair” may be confusing to your executor. “The brown chair that belonged to my grandmother and sits in the living room” is more precise. 

Many people write wills in which they split their assets evenly amongst their family members. This is okay for money, but it’s harder for physical assets. If you own something like a house, you need to name who gets what. 

You can attach letters to your will. You can describe why you made the decisions you made.

You can also describe what you want your family to do with your remains. If you want, you can write to specific people and wish them goodbye. 

Make sure you sign your will with witnesses. Most states regulate that the witnesses cannot gain anything from the will. 

Update and Revise 

Store your will in a location where it cannot be changed or ruined. The best place to put it is in a bank. You should keep at least one other physical copy somewhere else, including in your home. 

You should update your will every few years. You can provide the exact numbers on your estate and assets. 

It is essential that you revise your will after any major life event, especially marriages and divorces. Change your beneficiaries and name the people you plan on disinheriting. 

How to Write a Will 

You must learn how to write a will. You need to have a good understanding of your estate. Figure out what your assets are and decide who should benefit. 

Browse some tools that you can use to write your will. They include computer software. Hire an estate planning attorney early on. 

Name important people, including those you wish to disinherit. Be specific when describing your assets and avoid splitting everything evenly. Make updates when you make a major life change. 

Don’t forget the basics about finances. Follow our coverage for more financial guides.