If you'd like to put together a simple will, you can probably do it yourself. Online wills and software can guide you through the process easily and accurately.
Most people do not need a lawyer’s help to write a basic will. Will laws are not complicated and there are very few legal requirements:
A will document itself can (and should) be in plain-English so that the meaning is clear to you and to anyone who reads it – no legalese required. You can make a will yourself with good self-help resources. Of course, if you have a complicated situation or if you have legal questions see a lawyer for help.
A basic will is a key document for almost any estate plan. You can use a will to:
You can also use a will to forgive debts, name new owners for your pets, and decide how your debts and taxes should be paid. Even if you use a living trust to distribute most of your property and avoid probate, it still makes sense to make a basic will to name guardians for your young children and take care of any property that does not end up in the trust.
If you do not make a will or (other plan, like a living trust) that determines where your property will go when you die, then your property will be distributed according to your state’s “intestacy” laws. Generally, intestacy laws give your property to your closest relatives – or at least, who the state considers to be your closest relatives – usually your spouse, children, parents, or siblings. The best way to avoid having the state decide who will get your property is to make a basic will.
Does everyone need a will? There is small category of people who may not need a will. For example, you may not need a will if you:
If all of these things are true for you, then you are one of the few people who do not need to make a basic will.
You can write your will yourself using quality self-help resources from books, software, or online programs. A good self-help tool will clearly explain how wills work, how to make one, how to make it legal, and when to consult a lawyer for help. Find a will-making tool that uses plain-English – both in the instructions and in the document itself. You should understand exactly what you are doing and what the will says. There is no need for legalese in a will.
If your wishes are simple– for example, you want all your property to go to your spouse and you have no young children, then you may not need to do much to prepare to make your will. However, if you’re like most people and have a somewhat more complicated situation, you may need to gather some information before you make your will. Here is a list of what you might need:
If you use a will form – like one downloaded off the internet or from a book – you will need to fill in your personal information and choose which clauses you want to include. When using a fill-in-the-blank form, make sure you have a good self-help tool that clearly explains what to do. If you use software or an online program, you won’t have to do as much work because the program will assemble the document for you. However, you should still make sure that you truly understand and agree with your final document.
To make your will legal, you and two witnesses will sign it. Notarization is not required, however, in many states you can attach "self-proving affidavit" that must be notarized. The affidavit helps your executor get your will admitted to probate after you die, but it is not required. A good will-making tool will provide this affidavit to you and explain what to do with it.
Although many people will be able to make a basic will without a lawyer, some circumstances require professional legal advice:
If you do decide to see a lawyer for advice, go prepared so that you can ask specific questions and so that you don’t pay the lawyer to teach you about estate planning. Take some time to find an attorney who is competent, listens to your concerns, and works with you to build your estate plan.