Can I write my own will without a legal professional?

Q:

Can I write my own will without a legal professional?

A:

A will, or last will and testament, is a legal document that allows a person to determine how their property and assets should be distributed upon their death. More importantly, however, it can be one of the best gifts that you can give to your family.

Whether it’s due to grief, a lack of communication or simply control, conflict often occurs following a death. Despite the intention of remaining family members, it’s not unusual for fights and conflict to occur when decisions have to be made about a selling house, distributing money or determining who gets what possessions.

Having a legal will can eliminate much of the disagreement and conflict. It allows you to outline exactly how you want your property and assets distributed. Given the heightened stress and emotions following a death, there is no reason to leave the decision of asset allocation and distribution to your family members – or worse, the state.

What happens if I do not have a will?

If you’re still not convinced that you need a will, consider what will happen if you do not have one. In the United States, each state has what are called intestate succession laws. It sounds complicated, but all it really means is that the state will determine who will get your property if you die without a will or another estate plan in place.

For more information about your specific state’s intestate succession laws, you will have to review your specific state’s laws or discuss them with an attorney. Generally, however, intestate laws will allocate your property and assets to your closet relatives: children, spouse, parents and siblings. This might be logical for some, but for individuals with a more complicated family tree, this may not be ideal.

Can I create a will without a lawyer?

The good news is that all the uncertainty of what happens to your assets and property after your death can be avoided. In fact, there are few legal requirements for creating a will. So, assuming that your situation is not too complicated, you may be able to complete a will without hiring a lawyer.

Let’s take a closer look at the steps that you need to take to create a will.

1. Review the laws in your state to create a legal will.

As mentioned above, state laws concerning will creation can vary. For this reason, it’s important to understand the laws in your state. You do not want to have your will invalidated following your death because you failed to follow a few simple steps.

2. Identify your property and assets, and name an executor.

Step 2 in creating a will is to identify the assets and property that will be distributed through the will. While many assets will be distributed through your will, there are some that will not. Specifically, certain investment accounts such as a 401k will be distributed according to who you name as the beneficiary of the plan, not your will. In fact, if you are married, your spouse is automatically the beneficiary of your plan unless they sign a waiver and they allow you to designate another beneficiary such as a child, charity or friend.

After the property and assets are identified, you will need to find an executor. The executor must have the mental and moral capacity to follow your wishes as outlined in the will, and be able to distribute your assets.

3. Create your will.

After you have reviewed your state’s laws, determined what property and assets need to be distributed, and identified an executor, you will need to put your wishes in writing. This process can be done in a number of ways, but the most popular is to use a last will and testament online template. Templates can make the process as easy as filling in the blanks on a pre-formatted form. You may also choose to simply write your own will by hand.

4. Sign and date your will with the appropriate witnesses.

After the will is written, you must sign and date it. State laws also require the signing of the will to be witnessed, which is critical to ensure that you have not been coerced and you are of sound mind.

Witness laws vary by state. For example, in Texas, you must write a will and sign it (or have another person write it at your direction in your presence). Two credible witnesses over the age of 14 must also sign the will. In other states, such as North Dakota, you will also need two witnesses, but the state also allows an option to have the process done in front of a notary public, which makes it self-proving. If you have taken this step, the court will accept the will following your death without contacting the two witnesses, which can expedite the distribution of your assets.

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For many individuals, writing a will is not only possible, but it can also be simple and inexpensive. Writing your own will without legal help, however, may not always be the best option. Those who have minor children, who have had multiple marriages, who have a business, who have millions of dollars of assets, or who think their will might be contested should generally seek legal help.

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Written by Justipedia Staff
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Whether you're facing a legal issue or just seeking information, Justipedia aims to be your most trusted resource for legal information on the Web. With the help of legal professionals across the country, we put the law in plain language to help answer your top legal questions.

Justipedia was founded by Internet veterans Cory Janssen and Mitchell Allen. Janssen founded Investopedia.com and grew it one of the largest investing sites on the Web. Allen is an author, speaker and the founder of LeadRival, the leading provider of pay-per-action advertising in consumer legal services.

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