How to Write a Will
Need to know how to write a will that will clearly reflect your wishes
after your death and will be legally binding? Just follow our very clear
It's never too soon! Ensuring your loved ones are taken care of as only
you can best determine how, should be high on anybody's list of
priorities. Unfortunately a large number of people die without a will
(intestate), leaving it up to the courts to make decisions on their behalf.
Many people do not need a lawyer to draft a basic will. If your
circumstances are such that you will not leave a very large estate behind,
and the beneficiaries are fairly straightforward, it is a simple matter to
show you how to write a will. We have a variety of free last will and
testament forms that can be used as a sample documents to compile your
Free Will Form - For married people with minor children
Last Will and Testament - For married people with adult children
Free Last Will and Testament Form - For married people with adult and
Last Will and Testament Form - For married people without children
Free Legal Will Form - For a single person without children
Free Last Will and Testament - For a single person with adult children
Free Legal Will Forms - Guidelines for Unmarried Partners
Free Living Will
In showing you how to write a will, we will cover all the requirements
basic to any will. It is best to do your draft and then final will on a
computer where you can amend it from time to time - the printout will
then be witnessed and/or notarized. A handwritten (holographic) will may
be problematic so having a typed will is always advisable.
In the past codicils were added to wills to reflect changes - rather than
retyping sometimes lengthy documents. These codicils also had to be
witnessed and/or notarized and could be confusing. It is much easier
2. nowadays to amend the will electronically and produce a new complete
You should produce a new will when any of your circumstances change,
such as the birth of a child, divorce, change of property, moving to a new
How to write a will:
1. Document Title
Typically the headline would be: LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT
You will state your full name and residential address, with a declaration
* You are of legal age to make will and are of sound mind and
* This is your last will and testament, revoking all previously made
wills and codicils
* You are not under duress or undue influence to make this will
Note: In giving your personal details, be as complete as possible - add
any identification numbers, maiden names etc.
3. Name an Executor
People typically name the remaining spouse or main beneficiary of the
estate as executor. This makes good sense, since they have knowledge of
the assets and the interest to see to a speedy wrap-up of the estate and
the probate process. A competent friend may also be nominated, but you
should discuss their willingness to do this duty with them first.
You should also name an alternate executor should your first choice not
be available or willing at the time. If you do not specifically name an
executor in your will, the courts will appoint one and executor's fees may
Get more information on choosing an executor and the duties of an
Executor of a Will.
4. Name a Guardian for your Minor Children
If your children are of the age that they require guardianship and there is
no remaining natural parent to take care of them, you should name a
legal guardian in your will or the court will appoint one. This is probably
the most important clause for parents in determining how to write a will.
3. Have a serious discussion with your choice of guardian to confirm that
he / she is prepared to take on this duty, before naming him / her in your
will. If your choice is a stable married couple, state both their names.
Unlike temporary guardianship a legal guardian may be responsible for
your children for a long time and must be chosen with care.
Guidelines for choosing a guardian, can assist you in naming a legal
guardian in your will.
5. Details of Beneficiaries
Name your spouse or life partner, children and other beneficiaries
specifically and without leaving any doubt as to their identity. Name
alternate beneficiaries in case of simultaneous death.
In most cases a spouse has a right to inherit. Should you disinherit your
spouse and it is contested in court, your will may be overruled. You need
to consult with an attorney to get information and advice if you do not
want your spouse to inherit.
6. Details of your Assets
An important part of how to write a will, is to distinguish between estate
assets that are already assigned to beneficiaries in the event of your
death and those that are not.
Assets that are not part of a will, may be any policies where you have
already specified a beneficiary, joint ownership or joint tenancy of
property, payable-on-death bank accounts, trusts etc. (If a policy does
not have a beneficiary named, it becomes part of the estate and can
attract executor's fees.)
If you have assets in a different country, you should make a separate will
specifically for that country and exclude those assets from the will made
in your home country. Every country has different inheritance laws and
taxes and lumping all assets together can create serious problems and
delays. You should investigate how to write a will for foreign assets.
7. How to Write a Will to cover Specific Bequests
Under the heading "BEQUESTS" you could name persons or organizations
whom you wish to inherit specific property or cash sums. In the clause
thereafter, you will state the following: Apart from the items listed in #
above, I bequeath the remainder of my assets to ...
8. Funeral Arrangements
You can express your wishes on whether to be cremated, buried or have
your remains disposed of in any other way, as long as your wishes do not
contravene any laws in your state or country. Your last will and testament
is not the document to specify how you wish to receive treatment in a
medical crisis. Please refer to our free living will for more information.
4. 9. Your Signature
You have to sign your will in the presence of witnesses, since they will in
fact be witnessing that you are indeed the signatory of the will. The actual
date and place of the signing must be recorded and it is recommended
that you sign every page of the will.
10. Signatures of Witnesses
A minimum of two witnesses in most states and countries (3 in Vermont)
are required to witness the signing of your will. Their full names,
addresses and signatures should be on the document. You must add a
declaration that they witnessed your signature, that they are legal adults
and of sound mind and that they consider you of sound mind, adult age
and under no duress or undue influence to sign your will. The date and
place of their signing (same as yours) must be recorded.
Important Note: The witnesses must not be beneficiaries of your will in
any way whatsoever.
11. Numbered Paragraphs
An important part of how to write a will or any legal document is to
number the paragraphs in order. This is a simple way to confirm that the
document is complete with no missing pages or additional pages inserted.
A final optional part - compulsory in Louisiana, and always advisable - of
how to write a will is to have your will notarized. The signing process will
be done in the presence of a notary public or commissioner of oath and
the identity of the testator must be proven (photo identification must be
provided). If so duly notarized, the will becomes Self Proving during
Executor of a Will
Being named an executor or choosing the executor of a will does not
imply such a person must have legal or financial expertise.
Most often a spouse, close friend or main beneficiary of a will is named as
executor (or personal representative). That makes good sense because
such persons will have a good knowledge of the wishes of the deceased,
details of the estate and an interest to wind up the estate without delay.
Should they need expert help, the executor of a will can easily get
assistance from a lawyer, paralegal or accountant at a negotiable fee and
court officials are more than willing to explain procedures or issue
Many banks or financial institutions will draw up a will for their clients with
themselves as executors. Unfortunately the personal relationship between
5. banker and client has been replaced by electronic banking to a large
extent, so it is quite possible that a complete stranger - albeit a
competent individual - will oversee the will. An executor's fee will
definitely be payable, whereas a beneficiary as executor of a will mostly
waive any fees due.
Before naming an executor and alternate - refer to How to Write a Will -
you should confirm with them that they are willing and that they meet the
requirements of your state or country: i.e. not a minor or convicted felon
and a resident of your country. Some states also have restriction on out-
Duties of the Executor of a Will
In simple terms, it is the responsibility of the executor of a will - after
probate has been granted - to handle all payments due by the estate,
such as funeral expenses, debts and taxes and thereafter to distribute the
remainder of the assets to the beneficiaries as specified in the will.
The first step is to make a complete list of the assets of the deceased.
The second step is to apply to the court for a grant of probate. This
mainly entails the submission of proof of death, proving the will is valid
and filing a number of forms which can be obtained from the court.
Once probate has been granted, the executor must firstly pay funeral
expenses and administration fees, an allowance to the surviving spouse
and any children as permitted in law and then debts or any taxes owed by
The executor must then publish a notice (generally in two newspapers or
as required by country or state law) of intended distribution of the
balance of the state. Anybody with a claim can submit their particulars
within a specified period (generally one month). Thereafter the remainder
of the estate can be distributed according to the will.
The executor may have to sell assets in order to raise cash for the above
mentioned payments. If the executor is not the sole beneficiary of the
will, a bank account should be opened in the name of the estate and
accounting of all expenses or debts and income from sales must be
6. Probate & Will
Making a will is the most important step and probate is just one part of
the bigger picture which need not be a big concern for most people.
For most people it is not necessary to make elaborate plans to avoid it. In
fact, if the value of the estate falls within the exemption as allowed by
your country or state, you may not need to go through the process at all
or at most the procedure will be very simple.
So, What is Probate?
Quite simply - It is the legal process where the court will:
* Determine that the will is valid
* Determine that all the assets of the deceased are listed and valued.
(The net value is calculated after deducting outstanding monies owed).
* Grant permission to the executor to pay debts and taxes
* Allow the remainder of the assets to be distributed according to the will
It is the responsibility of the executor, as named in the will, to oversee
the probate process.
Although the whole process can take anything from a couple of months to
a year, it does not mean it is complicated or difficult. It mainly involves
the filing of the required forms with the court and may not require any
court appearances at all.
How to make the Probate process Faster and Easier.
1. Make a will! Every person of major age who has children or has
accumulated some assets should have a will. Refer to How to Write a Will
to guide you through the process.
2. Name an executor.
3. Name a guardian for your minor children.
If a person dies without a will (intestate), the laws of the land will
determine how the assets must be distributed and it may not be the way
you would have chosen to have it done.
If no executor has been named, relatives or beneficiaries can apply after
which the judge will make an appointment. This can add to delays
especially if there is disagreement amongst applicants.
The same problems and delays can arise if you do not name a guardian
for any minor children, which can have serious repercussions.
7. How to Avoid Probate
Any assets that are legally assigned (on their specific documents) to a
beneficiary or joint owner, are not part of your will and therefore do not
have to go through probate. However, they must still be listed to calculate
your net worth for the purpose of taxes.
Policies: Retirement funds or accounts, or life insurance policies make
provision for a beneficiary to be named (subject to laws on which the
broker must advise you.
Bank Accounts: A beneficiary can be named in a Payable-on-Death bank
account on the legal form provided by the bank. Joint accounts will mostly
become the property of the survivor.
Joint Ownership: When registering property it is a simple matter to list
more than one owner on the title at no extra cost. The primary home of
most couples are normally registered this way.
Securities: Ownership of stocks, bonds, shares etc. can either be in joint
tenancy form or a beneficiary can be named.
Living Trust: A living trust is a legal entity that holds the property so
registered. Property registered in a trust will not be part of your will (the
trust document will name the beneficiary) and so will not go through
probate. Setting up a living trust is best done by a professional who can
advise you on the best way to structure it.
Note: Any beneficiaries named on policies, securities, vehicle registration
etc. have no rights to such assets until after your death. During your
lifetime it remains your property to do with as you wish, whether to sell it
or to change the name of the beneficiary.
The information on this site is not intended as a substitute for estate
planning. It is an overview of ways for you to explore to keep assets out
of probate. Most people, especially those in the younger age group
without extensive assets, need not concern themselves with ways to
avoid probate. Older people who have accumulated a lot of assets should
seek professional help with estate planning.
8. Estate Assets
Who will inherit your estate assets? That may be an easy question to
answer on the face of it.
How will your funeral expenses and debts be paid? How do you want to
divide a house amongst three children.
If the executor of your will is not the main beneficiary, property may have
to be sold to pay executor's fees.
Have a look at the information listed below, and How to Write a Will which
can perhaps help you streamline the provisions in your will.
In calculating the net worth of your estate assets, the executor must
include the following:
* Market value of all real estate, vehicles, collectibles, jewelry and
personal property less any amounts still owed on them;
* Investments, stock market investments, bank accounts and policies in
* Business interests;
* Outstanding salaries, share options, bonus, leave pay etc. due.
The information on this page is not intended as advice on estate planning,
but takes a look at common problems faced when distributing estate
Cash Disbursements: What if you specify cash amounts to go to
organizations or beneficiaries, but your assets consist mainly of real
estate. In this case the property must be sold which can take time and
the market may be at a low. Perhaps bequeathing the real estate itself - if
possible - will make it easier.
Shared Inheritance: You leave one house to two children. There is a
dispute amongst them because one wants to keep it in the family, or live
in it whilst the other wants to sell it. Perhaps you should leave specific
instructions for the house to be sold at market value with the oldest child
having first option to buy it.
Collectibles: As an avid stamp collector you've built up a valuable
collection, but none of your beneficiaries display an interest in the hobby.
You can help your executor by documenting the catalogue and realization
value since you have best knowledge in this field. This can save time and
money during probate.
Specific Instructions: You can instruct the executor to sell a specific
item first e.g. a boat (rather than a second flat) to realize cash for funeral
expenses and debts.
9. Business Interests: If you are not the sole proprietor of a business or
have minor shareholdings in a company, you need to review your
shareholders agreements to ensure the disposal of these estate assets are
in accordance with the agreements.
Documentation: Having taken the proactive step to make a will, you
should take the time to organize records of policies, deeds of sale,
agreements, receipts to calculate capital gains tax etc.
Last Will and Testament Template
Our free last will and testament form can assist you in compiling a
document or to structure a brief for your attorney.
The free legal will form supplied on this page may be suitable for
married people with adult children. Or refer to our page on
How to Write a Will for links to other free legal will forms which may
suit your requirements better.
Note: We list a variety of clauses on the various last will and testament
samples listed, which you may want to incorporate in your document.
Before compiling your free last will testament form, have a look at the
guidelines on How to Write a Will where different aspects of wills such as
probate and choosing an executor are covered. Our Free Legal Forms
provide an easy reference for all our pages that can assist you with a
living will, power of attorney and more.
LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT
(Full Legal Names)
(Identification / Social Security Number/s)
10. 1. Declaration
I hereby declare that this is my last will and testament and that I hereby
revoke, cancel and annul all wills and codicils previously made by me
either jointly or severally. I declare that I am of legal age to make this
will and of sound mind and that this last will and testament expresses my
wishes without undue influence or duress.
2. Family Details
I am married to _____________________________ hereinafter referred
to as my spouse.
I have the following children:
Name: ______________________ Date of Birth _________
Name: ______________________ Date of Birth _________
Name: ______________________ Date of Birth _________
3. Appointment of Executors
3.1. I hereby nominate, constitute and appoint
_________________________ as Executor or if this Executor is unable
or unwilling to serve then I appoint _______________________ as
3.2. I hereby give and grant the Executor all powers and authority as
are required or allowed in law, and especially that of assumption.
3.3. I hereby direct that my Executors shall not be required to furnish
security and shall serve without any bond.
3.4. Pending the distribution of my estate my Executors shall have
authority to carry on any business, venture or partnership in which I may
have any interest at the time of my death.
3.5. My Executors shall have full and absolute power in his/her
discretion to insure, repair, improve or to sell all or any assets of my
estate, whether by public auction or private sale and shall be entitled to
let any property in my estate on such terms and conditions as will be in
the best interest of my beneficiaries.
3.6. My Executors shall have authority to borrow money for any
purpose connected with the liquidation and administration of my estate
and to that end may encumber any of the assets of my estate.
3.7. My Executors shall have authority to engage the services of
attorneys, accountants and other advisors as he/she may deem necessary
to assist with the execution of this last will and testament and to pay
reasonable compensation for their services from my estate.
11. 4. Beneficiary
I bequeath the whole of my estate, property and effects, whether
movable or immovable, wheresoever situated and of whatsoever nature
to my spouse ________________________.
5. Alternate Beneficiaries
5.1. Should my spouse not survive me by thirty (30) days I direct
that the whole of my estate, property and effects, whether movable or
immovable, wheresoever situated and of whatsoever nature be divided
amongst my children named in 2. above in equal shares.
5.2. I direct that the inheritance devolving upon any of my children
under my last will and testament as well as the proceeds, the
reinvestment of such proceeds and the income thereon shall be free from
the legal effects of any present or future marriage of any of my children,
whether in or out of community of property including any accrual system
and with or without the presence of any pre-marital agreement.
5.3. If any of my children are proved to be indebted to me by means of
a legal instrument, then his / her share of my estate shall be reduced by
the amount of such debt.
5.4. Should any of my children not survive me and my spouse by 30
(thirty) days I direct that the whole of my estate, property and effects,
whether movable or immovable, wheresoever situated and of whatsoever
nature be divided in equal shares between my remaining surviving
6. Special Requests
I direct that on my death my remains shall be cremated and all cremation
expenses shall be paid out of my estate.
I direct that on my death my remains shall be buried at
_______________________ and all funeral expenses shall be paid out of
7.1. Words signifying one gender shall include the others and words
signifying the singular shall include the plural and vice versa where
7.2. Should any provision of this will be judged by an appropriate court
of law as invalid it shall not affect any of the remaining provisions
12. IN WITNESS WHEREOF I hereby set my hand on this
_________________ day of _________________20_____ at
_______________________________________ in the presence of the
As witnesses we declare that we are of sound mind and of legal age to
witness a will and that to the best of our knowledge
____________________ is of legal age to make a will, appears to be of
sound mind and signed this will willingly and free of undue influence or
duress. We declare that he / she signed this will in our presence as we
signed as witnesses in the presence of each other, all being present at the
same time. Under penalty of perjury we declare these statements to be
true and correct on this ________________ day of _________________
20 __ at ________________________________.