Types of Will Templates

Before you make your own will, understand your options.

By , Attorney

Searching online, you can find a variety of will templates that allow you to make your own will, without a lawyer. They each require a varying amount of work, and they range in price and quality. Here is an overview of what's available.

Types of DIY Wills

Fill-in-the-Blank Forms

These templates come to you as fill-in-the-blanks documents. They vary greatly in quality and often do not come with detailed instructions or descriptions of the clauses. Some require you to build your will yourself, choosing from a collection of clauses. In the least, you will need to figure out what goes in each blank, and you'll need to fill it in in a uniform way. These forms require quite a bit of work, and they require you to be very careful and detailed because you are truly writing your own will. In fact, the biggest downside of these forms is that they allow the most room for error, especially because so many of these forms do not come with adequate instructions.

Statutory Forms

These forms are written into state laws and are designed to be a free estate planning alternative for those who cannot afford a lawyer. The upside to these will templates (besides the fact that they are free) is that they provide pre-approved language that will be familiar to the courts. So unless you muck it up with a bunch of your own language (which you shouldn't do), you can be fairly certain that there won't be any problems with your will after you die. The downside is that they are usually extremely simple wills that do not provide many, if any, options for tailoring to your own situation. This often means that it won't reflect your wishes, and it is therefore not sufficient for most people. If your state has a statutory form, and not all states do, you can find it by doing a web search for the name of your state and "statutory will." You can copy and paste the text of the statute into a blank document on your computer and fill in the blanks there. Or you may be able to find a pre-formed one like this one created by the State Bar of California. Again, these wills rarely come with instructions, so your best bet is to use the exact language of the statute, changing nothing, just filling in the blanks. Like all wills, to make it legal, you'll need to sign it and have it witnessed by two people who are not beneficiaries of the will.

Will Books

Books with good forms anc clear instructions are a good option for those who want an inexpensive, low-tech will. Will books usually come with downloadable forms or with forms on a CD. The book provides detailed instructions about how to fill out the form. Like forms sold without a book, these forms take some effort to fill out, but you have instructions to help you. These books also usually contain general information about estate planning.

Will Software

These are programs that you use to make your will after downloading the software to your computer. The program takes you through an interview—a series of questions designed to glean the key facts needed to make you a customized will. These programs usually provide a fairly sophisticated level of customization, so it's likely that you'll be able to make a will that reflects your wishes. Because the program is stored on your computer, you will be able to make changes to your will or make additional wills at no additional cost. Good programs also provide plenty of legal and practical support to help you make good choices in the will interview.

Online Will Programs

These increasingly popular programs work like will software. However, instead of installing the program on your computer, you access it online. Like will software, online wills take you through an interview to create a customized will. They usually provide legal and practical support as well. Although the program is not stored on your computer, you may be able to download your will or save your answers online, in case you want to make changes at a later time.

Nolo Wills

Nolo will products are created and maintained by lawyers and time-tested over decades. They each come with detailed help and plain-English, step-by-step instructions.

  • The Quick and Legal Will Book. This will book provides several simple will forms that you can edit with your word processor. It comes with clear plain-English instructions, and an overview of estate planning issues. Use this book if you want an inexpensive way to make a simple will, and if you don't mind doing a little bit of legwork putting it together.
  • Quicken WillMaker. WillMaker allows you to make multiple wills for you and your family, both online as well as on your desktop. Beyond providing a high-quality will, WillMaker is an amazing value, since the program comes with much more than a will. Also included is a suite of other essential estate planning documents and dozens of other useful forms, including healthcare directives, powers of attorney, transfer on death deeds, living trusts, final arrangement documents, and more.

To learn more about wills and other estate planning issues, visit the Wills, Trusts & Estate Planning section of Nolo.com.

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