A last will and testament is a legal document that details how a person’s assets and properties will be distributed after their death. This legal document can also detail custody and guardianship details for the surviving children if necessary. Since today’s world also has many technological aspects, digital assets can now also be included in a last will and testament.
When completing a last will and testament, you will need to have a clear idea about what you want to happen to your financial and real estate assets. You should have personal information for the party’s that will be receiving these assets in the event of your death. If you have the information you need, you can create a will without the assistance of a lawyer.
You'll recall from the introduction that the purpose of a last will and testament is to ensure that your loved ones and the court know how you'd like all of your assets distributed when you die. You'll also recall learning that each state has its own laws about exactly what must go into a will. Those state specific requirements make your will legally binding in probate court. Yet, there are many components that belong in every will regardless of the state that you live in when it is created. However, if you move to another state and become a resident of the new state, you may need to rewrite your will under the new state laws. Fortunately, using our template makes that easy to do. In this section, you'll learn about the common components found in a last will and testament.
With any last will and testament template, it is absolutely essential that you fully identify yourself not just by your full legal name, but by date of birth, social security number, and address, as well. You also must make it clear that you are in a legal position to make a will.; This means that you are of "sound mind,", that you are a legal adult in your state or that you meet a state's exception for being a minor and completing a will (such as being a member of the military), and that no one is influencing you or forcing you to write it.
You need to know the legal name of the person that you want to name as administrator or executor of your estate. This person will be legally responsible for upholding what your will says. They need to be a legal adult. They do not have to be related to you. Also, your executor usually cannot sign your will as a witness. You should also have a back-up person named in your will just in case your named executor cannot or refuses to perform those duties.
You also need certain information about the people you wish to leave your assets to in your will. These individuals are usually referred to as "beneficiaries" or "heirs." You will need their legal names and their birth dates. You will also want to specify if there are certain items from your estate that you want certain people (or organizations) to have. For example, if you have a wedding set that was handed down for five generations, you'd want to name a someone to take it so that it reduces the likelihood of fighting over it.
You can also discuss who should not receive anything from your estate. You can list them specifically and you can even list why. One common reason stated is when an adult child who is of sound mind is routinely helped by the person named in the will, the person may decide that the adult child already received part or all of their inheritance.
If you have minor children, you should list them by name and include their date of birth. You should name the person that you would like to act as guardian if you die. This is particularly important if you are a single parent and have sole legal and physical custody of the child. Without naming a guardian, your minor child could become a ward of the state or may be sent to live with someone they don't know or trust. This is equally important if you have a child (whether they are a minor or an adult) that is developmentally delayed and cannot live on their own.
Sometimes, minor children inherit the estate of their parent. However, they may not be able to legally own or use many of the assets. So, those items are often placed in a trust until the children reach a certain age. You can name a Trustee or the court may appoint one. Keep in mind that the Trustee is legally entitled to a reasonable payment for their services.
Of course, you don't need a minor child or a child with special needs to set up a trust as part of your will. You could do this for many reasons. Trusts can offer a lot of tax benefits for you, but sometimes they can "punish" your heirs in the form of tax. So, it's important for you to talk with a financial planner, tax expert, or lawyer before you use this component.
Most wills require you have at least one witness who watches you sign your last will and testament. Many states require two witnesses. Your state will have a law on who can sign as a witness. Witnesses must be legal adults. In many states, your witnesses cannot be someone receiving something from your will and they cannot be your executor, co-executor, or back-up executor.
Generally, wills must be notarized. If you live in a state that requires a will to be notarized, you and your witnesses should not sign it until you are in front of a notary.
In this first section, state your name (the Testator or Testatrix) in the appropriate area. In this case, a Testator is the individual who will be releasing their belongings, possessions and assets to other individuals once they pass away.
In this section, declare your marital status. If you are married, separated, engaged, or widowed, please list the name of the other individual.
First, declare how many children you have. For each child provide his or her name, date of birth, and whether or not they are living or deceased.
In this step, you will be listing your burial wishes and arrangements. If you know where you would like your funeral home arrangements made, or if arrangements have already been made, provide the following information:
If you will have a repast following your service, provide the following details:
If you’ve made burial arrangements, provide the Cemetery Name and Address.
In addition, if you have any memorial wishes, or if you’d like your ashes spread over a body of water or something similar, specify these wishes in this step as well.
This section addresses your debts and expenses. In this section, declare the state laws in which any taxes, debts, assets etc., will be subject to.
If you own a home or property, specify that here. Provide the address of your home/property
If you wish for someone to take care of your pets after you pass away, provide the following information of his or her appointed caretaker or pet organization:
In addition, provide the following information for each pet:
This section will allow you to appoint your Trustee or Executor. Do this by providing your Executor/Trustee’s name, and his or her relationship to you. Be sure to provide an alternate in case your primary Trustee or Executor is unavailable.
In addition, if you have Digital Assets, be sure to appoint a Digital Executor. Digital assets are assets like royalties, copyrights, etc. If you have Digital Assets, be sure to list a Digital Executor by providing the following information:
In addition, provide the same information for an Alternate Digital Executor:
This portion allows the Testator to certify and seal the Will, stating that they are of sound mind, and these are their wishes.
First, input your name (the Testator) the appropriate area, and sign, certifying that these are your wishes. Next, provide the following information for each witness:
First Witness’ Signature, and;
Second Witness’ Signature, and;
Alabama: Alabama laws that explain the legal requirements to create a Last Will and Testament are found in Title 43, Chapter 8. The execution (signing) requirements require that you have two witnesses at the time of signing. Wills also may not be signed electronically. § 43-8-131
Alaska: Alaska laws that govern the legal requirements of the creation and execution are found in Title 13, Chapter 12. To make it valid, it must be in writing, signed by the testator or by someone who is signing on behalf of the testator while they are in front of the testator, and also be signed by two witnesses. AS 13.12.502
Arizona: Arizona has specific laws that provide the requirements to create and execute the document: Title 14. Arizona law specifically states that it must be signed by the person creating it (or by someone who signs on their behalf in front of the individual while they are conscious) and also be signed by two witnesses who watch the testator sign the document. § 14-2502
Arkansas: Title 28 lists the legal requirements. To properly execute the document, it must be signed by the testator in front of at least two witnesses who will also sign the document. A.C.A. § 28-25-103
California: The laws related to the drafting and execution of a will may be found in Sections 6100 through 6113. To execute, the document must include a dated signature from the testator when they are considered to have testamentary capacity under the law and have the signature witnessed by two people. § 6111
Colorado: Drafting and executing must be done pursuant to CRS Title 15. To make the document valid in the State of Colorado, the testator must sign it in front of two witnesses or in front of a Notary Public. § 15-11-502
Florida: The laws governing how will must be drafted and executed in Florida may be found in Chapter 732. Execution requires the testator to sign the document as well as two witness signatures. FL Section 732.502
Idaho: The will must comply with the requirements listed in Title 15. Proper execution requires the testator to sign the document in front of two witnesses who can verify the signature. ID Section 15-2-502
Indiana: Title 29 of Indiana’s code governs the formation and execution of these documents. The document must be signed by the testator in the presence of two witnesses or have a valid self-proving clause. IC-29-1-5-3
Kansas: Chapter 59 of Kansas’ statutes explain the legal requirements for the writing and execution. To legally execute the document, the testator must sign it in the presence of two witnesses. § 59-606
Kentucky: Kentucky places their legal requirements for the formation and execution in Chapter 394 of their statutes. Execution involves the testator signing the document in the presence of two witnesses who will also sign the document. § 394.040
Maryland: The legal requirements are found in GAM, Estates and Trusts, Title 4. Proper execution involves the testator in front of at least two witnesses who must also sign to prove they witnessed the necessary signature. § 4-102
Michigan: documents must comply with the requirements as laid out in Act 386 of 1998. The legal execution process involves the testator signing the document in front of two witnesses as well as having those witnesses sign. § 700-2502
Minnesota: documents must comply with the legal requirements found in Chapter 524. The testator must sign the Last Will and Testament in the presence of two witnesses in order for the document to be legally valid. § 524.2-502
Mississippi: Mississippi law relegates how wills are created and executed in Title 91, Chapter 5. Execution of the will depends on whether the document is written and signed by the testator. If it is, no witnesses are required. If it is not written and signed solely by the testator, then it requires a signature by two or more credible witnesses. § 91-5-1
Montana: Montana Title 72 outlines the legal requirements. Proper legal execution requires the testator to sign the document in front of two witnesses and to have those witnesses sign as well. § 72-2-522
Nebraska: The legal requirements for Nebraska Last Will and Testament are found in Chapter 30. Legal execution is achieved by having the testator sign the document in front of two witnesses and for those witnesses to also provide their signatures. § 30-2327
Nevada: Nevada Title 12, Chapter 133 provides the legal requirements for Last Will and Testaments, which are executed when the testator signs the document in the presence of two witnesses and also has those two witnesses sign it as well. NRS 133.040
New Hampshire: New Hampshire’s Chapter 551 provides the necessary requirements to write and execute. To legally execute the document, the testator must sign the document in the presence of two or more credible witnesses as well as have those witnesses sign the document. § 551:2
New Jersey: Statute Title 3B outlines the requirements that must be filled to create a valid document. Legally executing a NJ will is done by having the testator sign the document in the presence of at least two witnesses who are also required to sign. § 3B:3-2
New Mexico: Governed by Chapter 45. In order for the document to be considered valid under the law, it must be signed by the testator in the presence of two witnesses who also sign the will. § 45-2-502
New York: Must abide by the State’s Estates, Powers, and Trusts provisions. A New York Will is made legally valid when the testator signs the document in front of two witnesses and those witnesses also provide their signatures. § 3-2.1
North Carolina: Chapter 31 of the North Carolina statutes provide the necessary requirements for the drafting of the legal document. To make it valid, it must be signed by the testator in front of two witnesses. Those witnesses must also sign the will. G.S. 31-3.3
North Dakota: The required elements may be found in Chapter 30.1-08. Legal execution is done by having the testator sign in their own name in front of at least two witnesses or in front of a Notary Public. 30.1-08-02
Ohio: Required elements may be found in Chapter 2107. To create a valid will, the document must be signed by the testator in the presence of two witnesses. The witnesses must also sign the document. ORC 2107.03
Oklahoma: Title 84 of Oklahoma statutes provides the requirements that must be met to create a Last Will and Testament. To legally execute, it must be signed by the testator in front of two witnesses who also sign the document. It can also be notarized. O.S. § 84-55
Oregon: Chapter 112 of Oregon Statutes is relevant here. To make the will valid in the eyes of the law, the testator must sign it in the presence of two witnesses. Those witnesses are also required to sign the document. ORS 112.235
Pennsylvania: Must comply with Title 20, Decedents, Estates and Fiduciaries. Every will must be signed by the testator, have the testator’s signature by mark, or be signed by another person in the presence of the conscious testator. If signed by another person on behalf of the testator, the signatures of two witnesses are also required. § 2502
Rhode Island: Rhode Island’s Title 33 outlines the requirements that must be met.. The person creating the will must sign the document in front of at least two witnesses. The witnesses are also required to sign. § 33-5-5
South Carolina: Title 62 of South Carolina’s statutes documents the requirements that must be met by Last Will and Testaments. According to SC statutes, it must be signed by the testator and two witnesses. § 62-2-502
The final component to a will is a codicil. A codicil is a change to your will. Instead of rewriting an entire will, many people use a codicil to make a change. It could be used to write someone in or out of a will. It could be used to add or remove specific assets from a will. Codicils take less time to create and usually only require you to initial next to them.
A will isn't the only thing you need. You must also consider completing essential documentation to ensure that your wishes related to your healthcare can be followed if you become unable to make your own decisions. So, you should also complete:
For many people, having a last will and testament in place provides a sense of satisfaction and security. When people consider creating a last will and testament, however, they often jump to conclusions about how the process works. First, many individuals assume that a last will and testament form can only be made legal by working with an attorney. Because of this assumption, people think the creation of this important document is out of their reach because of the expense often associated with legal assistance. The truth is, this assumptions is wrong. Completing a last will and testament template is something you can do yourself for minimal cost. When you look at the consequences of not having a will in place, it quickly becomes clear that you can't afford not to have one.
Dying without a will is known in the legal world as dying "intestate". Essentially, if you have not made your wishes known and legally binding through a will, the state will decide how your property is divided. If you have a spouse or legally recognized partner but no children, then they receive all of your property. If you have children, or have no legal partner, the distribution of the estate has the potential to become confusing. In extreme instances, everything you own could become the property of the state, simply because there was no legally binding will at the time of death.
Now that you know a last will and testament template can be completed without an attorney, should you do it on your own? That answer is determined mostly by your unique situation. It's a question only you can answer. If your estate is large, your property is diversified, or your wishes are highly specific, you should consult an attorney regarding your will. However, having a last will and testament form in place at all times is the only way to ensure your wishes are followed by the probate court. You should never let a lack of money for attorney fees prevent you from creating having a legally-binding last will and testament. Fortunately, sample last will and testament forms and our last will and testament template can help you write a last will and testament that provides you peace of mind for years to come. As your personal situation changes over the years, you may need to revisit your last will and testament and make necessary charges to continue to ensure that your property is given out in the way that you want.
Before you start browsing sample last will and testament forms, make sure you know your state's specific requirements for a will. What steps are essential to make a will legally binding. Each state has different requirements on whether or not a handwritten will is acceptable, how many witnesses you need, who can act as a witness, and if you need a notary. Make sure you meet all of your state's requirements; otherwise, your will could be bypassed or declared invalid.
When you decide to create your own will, one safe and easy way is to use our professional last will and testament template. It provides you with the security of a tried and true format, as well as the ability to personalize your will as needed. While you will still need to ensure that all state requirements are met, creating your last will and testament using our template is an easy way to make sure that those you love will be cared for after your death.
The short answer is yes. If you are a legal adult, you need a last will and testament. It doesn't matter if you aren't considered rich. A will can help reduce any fighting between family members who would like to have certain items that you own when you die. How a last will and testament can work for you depends on your life circumstances, but you definitely need one.
You aren't required to hire a lawyer to create your will. However, it is best to seek legal counsel regarding the best course of action for planning your estate, given your financial circumstances. If you decide to do this on your own, there are many DIY books and online resources that can help you to do so (see our last will and testament form above).
A lot can go wrong if you do it yourself. Since a will is a legal document, it requires the appropriate elements required in your state. Improper terminology may nullify your document. There are other legal technicalities regarding signatures, witnesses, etc., that, if not done properly, can invalidate the will. The lawyer's job, therefore, is to ensure you navigate the will creation process properly and avoid any hiccups. You could also create a costly tax situation for your estate or for your heirs if you don't get proper tax guidance. In many cases where no will exists, a small estate affidavit will be needed to verify ownership of property for your heirs. but You can also learn what you can do before your death to reduce the tax burden of your estate and for your heirs.
When you die without a will, it is referred to as dying "intestate." When this happens, the laws of your state will determine how your property is distributed. Here are some things to remember about dying without a will:
Here are the most common intestate scenarios and how property is distributed:
A Last Will & Testament is an estate planning document that expresses how you'd like your property dealt with after you die. Even if you don't have any assets, a Last Will & Testament is still an important document. It is also used to name a person to take care of your minor children upon your death. It also cuts down the amount of time it takes for your family or friends to legally manage your affairs.Read More
Medical power of attorney names your preferred person to act on your behalf in relation to your future medical decisions. It prepares for the possible eventuality of your becoming unable to express your wishes in regard to your health care, or the possibility of becoming incapacitated through accident or condition.Read More
Guardianship forms apply to an appointed person who has legal rights to make decisions on behalf of another named person, such as a child or vulnerable adult. It may apply to a specific period, or be lasting.Read More