It’s a common misconception that you have to hire an attorney to write your own will. Yes, an attorney will know how to draft a will properly and they know your state’s estate laws, but there are plenty of legal websites out there that can help you draft just as good (if not better) of a will for a fraction of the cost. That being said there is a right way to write your own will and a wrong way.
Use a Will Template
It’s important to use a will template to draft your will. Even if you have a book of legal clauses or you’ve found clauses online, you need to use a template to put them altogether. Use a legal document website, like LegalZoom, to help piece your will together. It’s important you use a typed document. Even though some states allow hand-written wills, it is more formal and causes less issue in probate court if your will is typed.
No matter which template type you choose, make sure you choose one that has step-by-step instructions added in. These instructions will help make you feel confident in the legal document you’re drafting, but also ensure your will is drafted the right way.
Things to Include In Your Will
There’s no specific language requirement to your will. Instead it is a document that relates your final wishes regarding your estate. Therefore, write the will to benefit you and your loved ones. The amount of information you include in your will depends on your personal situation. Some things you may want to include are:
- The name of your executor — this is the individual who will see your will out.
- The name of any guardians for your children and/or property.
- How debts in your name will be paid off and how your final taxes will be handled.
- How your pets (if any) will be cared for.
While you can put a lot in your will, even the best legal document sites like LegalZoom or other template sites cannot help you with. These are more complex situations that might require an attorney to review and can be added to the will you have drafted yourself.
For example, if you want to leave money or property in a different way (rather than leaving it to a specific person) you will need to draft a trust in addition to your will. Most legal document websites will have basic guidelines for what you can include in your will and what other documents you might need based on your situation.
Some Rules Regarding DIY Wills
There are a lot of rules regarding estate planning. While these can vary from state to state, there are some rules that apply nationwide. These include:
- You must be 18 years of age or older to draft your own will.
- If you’re writing the will, you must be of the right capacity and of sound judgment to write it yourself.
- You must state in the document that it is your will.
- If you name an executor, he or she must be 18 years or older.
- Your will should be notarized.
Choosing an Executor
An executor is the individual who is responsible for settling your estate. You will need an executor to handle distribution of your assets, paying any remaining bills, etc. Remember, your executor must be at least 18 years of age. Most legal document sites like LegalZoom will verify age before allowing you to enter their name.
Just because a person is 18, however, doesn’t make them suitable for the executor role. The executor role is a big role to fill. Therefore, you want to choose someone who is responsible enough to handle tasks such as:
- Negotiating your debts with creditors.
- Discussing your estate with the Internal Revenue Service and state tax commissions
- Taking inventory of your belongings and property.
- Appraising or having someone appraise your assets.
- Distributing assets to those named in your will.
You do not have to name a family member for this role. In fact, many individuals name a friend, family attorney or even a financial planning expert to handle this responsibility.
Review Your Will
Once you draft a will, it’s not over. You still need to review your will at least once a year to make sure there are no significant changes. Also, if you have a life change, you will need to update your will as soon as possible so that it is relevant to your current situation. For example, if you have a new baby you will want to add your new child to your will — otherwise he or she will not be eligible for any inheritance. If you remarry, divorce or get married, you need to change your spouse situation in your will. Also, if you move to another state, you may have to draft an entirely new will based on your state’s new estate laws.