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How to Make a Will Without a Lawyer

Published on: Oct 17 2021
estate planning

In a recent survey, 53% of people who did not have a will gave this as their main reason:

Difficulty finding an attorney they could trust.

However, you don’t need a lawyer to prepare a will for you.

You can prepare a will yourself, and there are plenty of resources, especially online, to guide you.

You can save money this way and still have peace of mind knowing that your estate plan is in place.

Below are the steps to help make a valid will without a lawyer.

Make a List of any Assets and Liabilities

The first step is to know what you own and owe.

Since the main focus of a will is the distribution of your assets, it’s important that you first compile a list of them.

Your executor will have to pay any debts before distributing assets, so you also should make a list of them.

Understand the Legal Requirements of Your State and Know any Necessary Language and Features

While many states accept different types of wills, a state might accept a holographic, or handwritten, will or a will without witnesses, at least under some circumstances, you should strive to meet the requirements of a testamentary will.

Meeting these requirements make it less likely that someone will challenge a will and that a court will declare it to be invalid.

The requirements of a testamentary will differ from state to state.

Witnesses are required. But some states require two witnesses while others, such as Vermont, require three.

Some states require that the signatures of you and the witnesses be notarized, while others don’t. Know your state’s requirements.

A will should state that it is the most current and updated version.

It should include a statement revoking any previous versions and affirm that the current version is the only valid will.

Create a Basic Template Yourself or by Using an Online Service

You aren’t required to use the same format as most other wills, but it will make things easier for your executor and reduce the potential the will won’t be considered valid.

It is best to have the will typed or computer-generated.

The various online will-making services make this easier by establishing the format and allowing you to print the final version to be signed.

Most of these services guide you through the process by having you answer a series of questions. The service uses the answers to generate the final will.

Decide on Your Beneficiaries

A beneficiary is a person who receives property through the will.

The transfer or gift of property is known as a bequest.

You need to identify the people (or institutions, such as charities) you wish to receive bequests from your estate and determine the amount of the bequests.

Most people name spouses, children, close family members, or close friends as their beneficiaries.

Many include one or more charities as well.

A specific bequest is when an individual(s) receives a specific asset or a specific amount of money.

For example, a will might say “My brother Joseph is to receive $5,000 cash.” Or a will might say “My sister Jane is to receive my diamond bracelet.”

You don’t need to make specific bequests. Some people want to remember friends or family who aren’t members of the immediate family.

Other people know that a particular piece of property would be meaningful and cared for by a certain person.

The estate that is left after any specific bequests are made is known as the residual estate.

Bequests from the residual estate tend to be more general and nonspecific.

For example, a standard residual bequest is to provide that all the children receive equal shares of the estate.

Another frequent provision is to provide that the surviving spouse receives the bulk of the estate (say 80%), but the adult children receive the remaining portion.

It’s a good idea to name contingent beneficiaries who will inherit if the primary beneficiary is deceased at the time the will is probated.

For example, a will can say that the estate will be inherited by the spouse but the children will each receive equal shares of the estate if the spouse has passed away.

Generally, if a minor is a beneficiary, the child cannot legally own the assets until reaching the age of majority.

Either a guardian must be appointed to handle the child’s assets or your will can create a trust in which the trustee will manage the assets until the child reaches an age named in the trust agreement.

In next week’s issue of Retirement Watch Weekly, I’ll bring you part two of this series, including how you can ensure your assets are distributed exactly the way you want them to be.



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