How to Write a Will

Need to know how to write a will that will clearly reflect your wishes after your death and will be legally binding? Just follow our very clear guidelines below.

It's never too soon! Ensuring your loved ones are taken care of as only you can best determine how, should be high on anybody's list of priorities.

Unfortunately a large number of people die without a will (intestate), leaving it up to the courts to make decisions on their behalf.

last will and testament document



Many people do not need a lawyer to draft a basic will. If your circumstances are such that you will not leave a very large estate behind, and the beneficiaries are fairly straightforward, it is a simple matter to show you how to write a will.

We have a variety of free last will and testament forms that can be used as sample documents to compile your will.

You should make a new will when any of your circumstances change, such as the birth of a child, divorce, change of property, moving to a new address etc.





Free Last Will and Testament Templates and Related Free Legal Forms:

Will Form - For married people with minor children

Will and Testament - For married people with adult children

Last Will and Testament Form - For married people with adult and minor children

Will and Testament Form - For married people without children

Legal Will - For a single person without children

Free Will Form - For a single person with adult children

Legal Wills - Guidelines for unmarried partners

Affidavit of Domicile - To attest to the residence of a person at the time of death

Living Will - Your advance health directive

In showing you how to write a will, we will cover the requirements basic to any will. It is best to do your draft and then final will on a computer where you can amend it from time to time - the printout will then be witnessed and/or notarized. A handwritten (holographic) will may be problematic so having a typed will is always advisable.

In the past codicils were added to wills to reflect changes - rather than retyping sometimes lengthy documents. These codicils also had to be witnessed and/or notarized and could be confusing. It is much easier nowadays to amend the will electronically and produce a new complete document.



How to write a will: A step-by-step guide

1. Document Title

Typically the headline would be: LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT

2. Declaration

You will state your full name and residential address, with a declaration that:

  • You are of legal age to make will and are of sound mind and memory;
  • This is your last will and testament, revoking all previously made wills and codicils;
  • You are not under duress or undue influence to make this will.

Note: In giving your personal details, be as complete as possible - add any identification numbers, maiden names etc.

3. Name an Executor

document

People typically name the remaining spouse or main beneficiary of the estate as executor. This makes good sense, since they have knowledge of the assets and the interest to see to a speedy wrap-up of the estate and the probate process. A competent friend may also be nominated, but you should discuss their willingness to do this duty with them first.

You should also name an alternate executor should your first choice not be available or willing at the time. If you do not specifically name an executor in your will, the courts will appoint one and executor's fees may be payable.

Get more information on choosing an executor and the duties of an
Executor of a Will as well as information on the Probate process.

4. Name a Guardian for your Minor Children

baby and adult hands

If your children are of the age that they require guardianship and there is no remaining natural parent to take care of them, you should name a legal guardian in your will or the court will appoint one. This is probably the most important clause for parents in determining how to write a will.

Have a serious discussion with your choice of guardian to confirm that he / she is prepared to take on this duty, before naming him / her in your will. If your choice is a stable married couple, state both their names. Unlike temporary guardianship a legal guardian may be responsible for your children for a long time and must be chosen with care.

Guidelines for choosing a guardian, can assist you in naming a legal guardian in your will.

5. Details of Beneficiaries

Name your spouse or life partner, children and other beneficiaries specifically and without leaving any doubt as to their identity. Name alternate beneficiaries in case of simultaneous death.

In most cases a spouse has a right to inherit. Should you disinherit your spouse and it is contested in court, your will may be overruled. You need to consult with an attorney to get information and advice if you do not want your spouse to inherit.

6. Details of your Assets

An important part of how to write a will, is to distinguish between estate assets that are already assigned to beneficiaries in the event of your death and those that are not.

Assets that are not part of a will, may be any policies where you have already specified a beneficiary, joint ownership or joint tenancy of property, payable-on-death bank accounts, trusts etc. (If a policy does not have a beneficiary named, it becomes part of the estate and can attract executor's fees.)

If you have assets in a different country, you should make a separate will specifically for that country and exclude those assets from the will made in your home country. Every country has different inheritance laws and taxes and lumping all assets together can create serious problems and delays. You should investigate how to write a will for foreign assets.

7. How to Write a Will to cover Specific Bequests

Under the heading "BEQUESTS" you could name persons or organizations whom you wish to inherit specific property or cash sums. In the clause thereafter, you will state the following: Apart from the items listed in # above, I bequeath the remainder of my assets to ...


8. Funeral Arrangements

You can express your wishes on whether to be cremated, buried or have your remains disposed of in any other way, as long as your wishes do not contravene any laws in your state or country. Your last will and testament is not the document to specify how you wish to receive treatment in a medical crisis. Please refer to our Living Will page for more information.

signing a will

9. Your Signature

You have to sign your will in the joint presence of witnesses, since they will in fact be witnessing (see) that you are indeed the signatory of the will and under no duress to do so. The actual date and place of the signing must be recorded and it is recommended that you sign every page of the will.

10. Signatures of Witnesses

A minimum of two witnesses in most states and countries (3 in Vermont) are required to witness the signing of your will. Their full names, addresses and signatures should be on the document.

The witnesses have to sign in the presence of the person making the will.


You must add a declaration that they witnessed your signature, that they are legal adults and of sound mind and that they consider you of sound mind, adult age and under no duress or undue influence to sign your will. The date and place of their signing (same as yours) must be recorded.

Note: It may not be a requirement in your jurisdiction for the witnesses to sign in one another's presence. Practically though, it does not take long for the will maker and witnesses to complete their signatures whilst all being present at the same time. Our last will and testament templates have the witness attestation worded as such. If your witnesses will not be signing in one another's presence, you will need to amend their declaration accordingly.

Important Note: The witnesses must not be beneficiaries of your will in any way whatsoever.

Comment from a site visitor re Wills in Puerto Rico:

I recently had a fully probated U.S. will dismissed in Puerto Rico because the Witness declaration lacked the time-of-day, a local requirement. The time zone must also be stated if not GMT.

My advice to anyone trying to leave property in Puerto Rico by will is to find a member of the Puerto Rico bar to draw up the will, (because of the particular administrative requirements in Puerto Rico) and not to rely on U.S. rules or lawyers.

Raymond (Miami,FL.)

11. Numbered Paragraphs

An important part of how to write a will or any legal document is to number the paragraphs in order. This is a simple way to confirm that the document is complete with no missing pages or additional pages inserted.

12. Should You have your Will Notarized

A final optional part - compulsory in Louisiana, and always advisable - of how to write a will is to have your will notarized. The signing process will be done in the presence of a notary public or commissioner of oath and the identity of the testator must be proven (photo identification must be provided). If so duly notarized, the will becomes Self Proving during probate.




Related Government Sites

USA   UK   Canada   Australia   South Africa

The information on this site can show you how to write a will and provides a free will form, but if you wish to make a complex will or need help with estate planning, you should seek professional guidance.

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