How To Write A Will In Just 6 Easy Steps

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Learn how to write a will now so you don’t find yourself scrambling later.

girl at desk starting at laptop

Don’t know how to write a will? We’re here to help.

It may be a little unsettling to think about, but your will is one of the most important documents you will ever write. Without a will, the state decides how your assets are divided and who will care for your children or pets. Wouldn’t it be better to make these decisions yourself now and know you secured your family’s well-being? ❤️

The most important tip of will writing is not to procrastinate. Many of us put off this necessary task because thinking about death is a bit unerving. But if you’re finally ready to rip off the bandaid and tackle your will, we’re here to help you do it — and it’s more straightforward than you may think!

How to get started writing a will:

business woman sitting in front of laptop

Determine how you will write your will:

  • Use an attorney. Going this route is costly, but it ensures you end up with a legally binding document that has all the “i”s dotted and the “t”s crossed. We highly recommend using a lawyer if you would like to reduce estate taxes, ensure legality, or have any complicated situations. Complex situations may include owning property in multiple states, being a business owner, having a blended family, or having estranged family members.
  • Use an online service. These services make the will writing process more affordable and easy. Use their guided templates at your own pace. Just make sure whatever service you choose accounts for federal and state laws. The top 2 that we recommend are Trust & Will (from $159) and LegalZoom (from $249) because they have a legal staff available should you need consultation.
Hip Tip:  Don’t use a handwritten will, sometimes called a holographic will. They can be more difficult to enforce.

What to include when writing a will:

1. Have a clear title.

woman on computer

Make no room for mistakes! Let it be very clear that this is your last will and testament. Title your document clearly, make sure it is dated, and indicate it is THE version to execute.

2. Decide which assets to include.

writing near computer how to write a will

This section of your will is for your to divvy up your personal belongings, property, and other assets. You can grant them to one party or your can divide your assets between multiple parties. Check your state laws to know what assets can be included. As the testator, or the one writing the will, you must carefully describe each asset and identify your beneficiaries using their full names. If there is someone specific who should get your favorite emerald earrings, here is where to name them!

If you’re afraid you might have forgotten to list an asset, write a residuary clause. This clause states that any items you forgot to list will go to a specific person, either to a beneficiary of your choice or to your executor.

Hip Tip: Do not include any life insurance policies, 401ks, or jointly owned assets like bank accounts or property. These assets already have designated beneficiaries, ones that will supersede anyone you put in your will. If you need to change the beneficiary, do so on those documents instead.

3. Decide if you want to open a testamentary trust.

man holding $20 cash bills

A testamentary trust is a trust that begins once you die. You’ll decide which assets to transfer to the trust and who the beneficiaries of the trust will be. Creating a testamentary trust is handy if you would like more control over how your assets are used.

You might use this type of trust to limit the amount of money a minor can withdraw until a certain age. Or, you might use this trust if your money has a contingency, likfe if you want to leave money to a grandchild but it can only be used for college tuition. These trusts are optional and not required for you to complete your will.

4. Pick a guardian for your children or pets.

how to write a will: choose a guardian picture of woman and child playing

Custody will typically fall to any living parent. In the event that both parents die, it is wise to choose a guardian. The state will have the final say, but your opinion counts. This is your chance to nominate who you think is the best person to look after your child or pet.

5. Pick an executor.

how to write a simple will

Who do you trust to handle your affairs? An important step when writing your will is to name your executor. Choose someone above the age of 18 that is level-headed, organized, and reliable. This person will notify creditors of your passing, pay any outstanding debts, take your will to the probate court, and make sure all your affairs are settled.

If you’d rather not appoint a person, you can appoint a neutral third party like a bank.

6. Get impartial witnesses to watch you sign.

how to write a will with witnesses a couple on couch with laptop and papers

Each state has its own laws regarding witnesses, but typically you want at least two witnesses to watch you sign your will. It’s best to pick neutral witnesses who do not stand to gain or lose anything from the situation. They will provide their signatures indicating that you had the mental capacity to write your will and they saw you sign it on your own accord. This step is extremely important. Without witnesses, your will is not legally binding.

Hip Tip:  Add a self-proving affidavit to your paperwork. This notarized document proves a will’s validity. In many states, this document will be enough to execute your will. Without it, some probate courts may call your witnesses to testify to your will’s legitimacy and that can hold up the inheritance process.

How to maintain your will:

Bush Furniture File Cabinet shown with drawer open

Now that the hard part is over, all you need to do is keep your will someplace safe. Tell your executor where to find the latest copy. Many people store the paperwork in a fireproof safe, at their lawyer’s office, at probate court, or in a security deposit box. It’s a good idea to keep a digital backup, too.

Every few years, review your will for needed updates. Change your will with an amendment, called a codicil, or make a new will entirely. Just don’t forget to have your witnesses sign off on your changes!

Find out about life insurance and whether or not it’s worth it.

About the writer:

Kara is a writer and photographer from the Midwest. Her creative work has appeared in various publications over the past decade. With a background in finance, she loves to be money-savvy.

Join The Discussion

Comments 8

  1. Colleen

    I am an Attorney but am not providing specific legal advice but rather general advice. PLEASE do not skimp on a Will. Consult a licensed Attorney in your state and have the walk through the specifics for YOUR exact situation. While this does provide generally good advice, depending on your situation (i.e. minor children; disabled children; status as a business owner, etc), you need a licensed Attorney to provide accurate, State-specific information. The average cost to prepare Wills, Powers of Attorney, and Living Wills for a married couple is between $500-1000. This is more than worth the peace of mind and knowledge that your last wishes are safe.

    • Jessica (Hip Sidekick)

      Thanks, Colleen! We sure appreciate you taking a moment to share your thoughts! ❀️

    • MaryKay

      I totally agree with you. We originally went with an online will but then we found out the way we set it up would not work for our Autistic teenager who needs contant care. We also found out that getting a Legal Will from an Attorney wasn’t as expensive as rumors had said it to be. Thank you for your thoughts!😁

  2. kcfrugal

    Please do not forget to have Health Care Directive will/ testimony. If you are taking care of your parents like I am, it is also important to have Power of Attorney ready.

    • Jessica (Hip Sidekick)

      Thanks so much for sharing your tips with us! πŸ’ž

  3. Ellen

    I also agree 100% not to skimp on a real, live attorney (I am not an attorney) especially if you have minor children. If you want the court to respect your wishes them have them written down by a licensed attorney. Also, if you have any assets (I believe) they will spend months in probate plus paying the probate fees… (again, I am not a licensed attorney)

  4. Lisa

    If I am not mistaken, POA is something that parents need to give their children while they can still make the decision. Is that correct? My mother had POA on my father before he got dementia. My friend is now caretaker for her mother with dementia. She was told it’s too late to get POA over her mother.

    Thanks for all the great advice- I have a special needs child and have not figured out what to do. Ideally, I would give my adult children POA over him and guardianship of kind. They are both still a little young, even though they are adults. Perhaps I just need to update things every few years.

    • Kara

      I am not a licensed attorney – Think about a doing a Trust as well as a Will/ POA/ Health Care Directive. Each state AND family is different. What works for one family, may not work for another.
      A trust package *may* be more expensive in the short term, but in the long run, it can save your family time, money and stress.
      One more tip, keep an updated list of all family members with your estate planning documents. This is especially true if you designate a non-family member as personal representative/trustee. It will save your probate attorney and staff LOTS of time tracking this person down.

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