Most people know they need a will but aren't sure how to write one. The first decision you'll need to make is whether to write your will yourself. Most people can write a simple will without a lawyer, but some situations require professional help. Read more about this choice in Making a Will: Are Lawyers Optional?
If you decide to write your own will, you'll probably want some help creating your document, you'll want to know what to include, and you'll want to know how to make it legal.
First, choose a tool to help you write your will. You might use a book that gives you a variety of will clauses that you put together, or you might use a program that puts it together for you. In any case, you'll want to make a document that is typed, because although handwritten wills are permitted in some states, creating a formal, typed document is less likely to cause trouble after your death.
Find a will making tool that you can trust. There are several types, including:
Read more about these options in Types of Will Templates.
No matter what type of will template you prefer, make sure to choose one that comes with clear plain-English instructions so that you can feel confident that you are making a will that does what you want it to do.
No state requires specific language to make a will. The best wills are those that clearly reflect the wishes of the will-maker. So what you include in your will depends on what you want your will to do for you. Most people use a will to distribute their property after they die. A will can also:
Here are some things that you shouldn't try to do in your will:
To learn more, read What a Will Won't Do. If you want to do any of these things, get a lawyer's help. See below.
After you use a will template to write your will, you'll need to do a few things to make it legal:
Your witnesses do not need to know what's in your will. Simply gather them around, say ‘this is my will' and have them sign. Wills do not need to be signed by a notary public to be legal and binding. However, in most states you can also attach a self-proving affidavit and those must be signed by a notary public. Self-proving affidavits don't affect the legality of your will, but they do make your will easier to probate after your death.
Read more about finalizing your will in Executing a Will.
While social distancing has made it more difficult to have documents notarized or witnessed by people outside your household, you can learn more about your options in Notarizing and Witnessing Legal Documents During the Coronavirus Crisis.
If you decide that your situation is too complicated to write your own will, or if you would just rather have a professional do it, then you'll need a lawyer's help. But hiring a lawyer doesn't mean you need to hand over the entire process or spend an outrageous amount of money. Instead, you can educate yourself about the law. Doing so will save you money because you will need less time with the attorney and increase the likelihood that the attorney will draft a document that reflects your wishes.
Read more about Working With a Lawyer.
To learn more about wills and how they fit into a larger estate plan, go to the Wills section of Nolo.com.