A will is essentially a legal document that assigns your property and assets to specific people after your death. There are several ways to divide up the assets, and there are specific laws in every state regarding wills, but there are a few things that should be considered no matter what state you happen to be in.
- Signify your legal right to make up a will. This is usually just certifying that you are of sound mind, are over 18, and have not been coerced in way to make the will. A will is less likely to be contested or to be overturned if the person writing it clearly signifies these things.
Designate an executor. The executor of your will will be in charge of carrying it out. Choosing the executor means finding the person that you can trust with such a task. The person you choose should be mature and fair-minded in order to deal with assets and debts legally and fairly. Most people choose a family member, friend or lawyer to be the executor.
Have the correct number of witnesses. In some states, there must be two or more witnesses to the signing of a will in order to make it legally binding. Witness can usually be friends, family, a lawyer, and/or a notary. Usually, however, the witnesses must be people that are not named in the will as beneficiaries. Find out your state's law regarding witnesses and make sure to follow it precisely.
List all of your assets. Once a comprehensive list is made, it may be easier for you to decide which items will go to whom. The beneficiary of each asset should be clearly spelled out, leaving no doubt as to which item and which person you are indicating. Some people decide to form a trust at this point, in order to guard against estate taxes. To form a trust, you will need to consult a lawyer.
Provide for minor children. An important part of any will for a person with minor children is to designate a guardian for them. Designating a guardian may also entail designating money to the guardian to be used in raising the children. A residence may also be provided by the will for this purpose. Some wills also include trusts for the children, to be used when each child reaches legal adulthood.
Sign the will. With witnesses in place, sign the will on each page. If you have multiply copies of the will, which is recommended, sign each and every copy on every page. The witnesses will also be required to sign at the same time.
Make the will's location known. Family and/or friends should be told where to find the will in the event of your death. One copy might be kept in the home and another in a bank safe deposit box. If a lawyer was used to craft the will, the lawyer may keep a copy on file as well.
Keep the will up to date. If there are changes in your life such as the birth of a child, or the death of a beneficiary, the will may need to be amended to reflect the change. If you move to another state, the will may have to be changed to conform to that state's requirements.
In order to write a will, you can print out forms available online. You can also buy forms in a so-called "will kit" from several different sources, or your lawyer can provide the proper forms. There are some states in which a simple, handwritten will is just as legally binding as the available forms. Know your state's specific laws before begin your will.