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How to write a will: A step-by-step guide

❶States differ in terms of what to do if a person mentioned in your will dies before you. Living Will Form - Your advance health directive template.

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The laws governing wills vary from state to state. Before you do, brush up on these 10 things you should know about writing a will. What is a will? A will is simply a legal document in which you, the testator , declare who will manage your estate after you die. Your estate can consist of big, expensive things such as a vacation home but also small items that might hold sentimental value such as photographs.

The person named in the will to manage your estate is called the executor because he or she executes your stated wishes. A will can also serve to declare who you wish to become the guardian for any minor children or dependents, and who you want to receive specific items that you own — Aunt Sally gets the silver, Cousin Billy the bone china, and so on.

Someone designated to receive any of your property is called a "beneficiary. That usually means your estate will be settled based on the laws of your state that outline who inherits what. Probate is the legal process of transferring the property of a deceased person to the rightful heirs. Since no executor was named, a judge appoints an administrator to serve in that capacity.

An administrator also will be named if a will is deemed to be invalid. All wills must meet certain standards such as being witnessed to be legally valid. Again, requirements vary from state to state. An administrator will most likely be a stranger to you and your family, and he or she will be bound by the letter of the probate laws of your state. Do-it-yourself will kits are widely available. Conduct an Internet search for "online wills" or "estate planning software" to find options, or check bookstores and libraries for will-writing guides.

In particular, separate wills allow for each spouse to address issues such as ex-spouses and children from previous relationships. Ditto for property that was obtained during a previous marriage. Be very clear about who gets what. Probate laws generally favor the current spouse. The technical term is a disinterested witness.

Some states require two or more witnesses. Not all states require a will to be notarized, but some do. You can name your spouse, an adult child, or another trusted friend or relative as your executor. If your affairs are complicated, it might make more sense to name an attorney or someone with legal and financial expertise.

You can also name joint executors, such as your spouse or partner and your attorney. One of the most important things your will can do is empower your executor to pay your bills and deal with debt collectors. If you wish to leave certain personal property to certain heirs, indicate as much in your will. In addition, you can create a separate document called a letter of instruction that you should keep with your will. You can also include specifics about any number of things that will help your executor settle your estate including account numbers, passwords and even burial instructions.

Another option is to leave everything to one trusted person who knows your wishes for distributing your personal items. Where should I keep my will? If you put the will in a bank safe deposit box that only you can get into, your family might need to seek a court order to gain access. A waterproof and fireproof safe in your house is a good alternative. Your attorney or someone you trust should keep signed copies in case the original is destroyed.

Signed copies can be used to establish your intentions. How often does a will need to be updated? The decision is yours. In common law states, anything with only your name on the deed, registration papers or other title documentation is yours to bequeath. Alaska also allows couple to opt into a community property system if the couple so chooses.

State the division of your assets. State the way in which your assets will be divided among people using percentages, which should add up to percent. For example, one line might read: To my mother, Barbara Smith, I bequeath five 5 percent. Specify distribution of particular assets. If you want a beneficiary to receive a specific asset, you may state that as well.

Then that particular asset will not be included in the percentages of your estate the remainder that is divided among other beneficiaries. For example, one line may read: Include any addresses of real estate, descriptions of any personal property and full names of beneficiaries. Include provisions for beneficiaries dying before you. Designate a guardian to minor children. Your will should designate who will serve as the guardian to any minor children, if applicable, in the event of your death.

You can also include conditional gifts in your will that are contingent upon something. If the conditions specified as a prerequisite to receiving the gift are against any other laws, the court will not enforce them.

You may choose to stipulate how your remains should be handled, where you will be buried, and how your funeral will be paid for. Conclude the document with your signature, name, date and location.

How you sign the will is a matter of state law and can affect its validity. Do not add any text after your signature. In many states, anything added below the signature will not be included as a part of the will. Sign your will in the presence of one or more witnesses. In many cases, the will must be signed in the presence of two witnesses, who then sign a statement asserting that you are of legal age and sound mind and that you signed your will in their presence.

Here are a few examples: In Illinois, a will must be signed by the testator and two witnesses. The witnesses should not be beneficiaries of the will.

No notarization is required. In these cases, the witnesses and testator must all be present together and bear witness to all signatures. Alternatively, the will can be signed and authorized in front of a notary, in which case no further witnesses are required.

Or, as a third alternative, handwritten wills can be acknowledged by a court without need for witnesses or notarization. The UPC is an act drafted by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws to standardize state laws governing wills and other matters related to estates. It has been adopted in full by 17 states and in part by many other states. If your will does not meet the legal requirements, it will be found invalid and any property will pass under state laws governing the distribution of assets when someone does not have a will.

Figure out how your state handles property allocation. States differ in terms of what to do if a person mentioned in your will dies before you. Check with the American Bar Association to find out specifics for your state.

For example, if you leave your house to your sister and she dies before you, the house could go to her children. Another scenario would be that, when you die, the value of the course could be split among the still living beneficiaries. Do not alter the will after it has been signed. The witnesses to your will testified to your capacity and acknowledged your decisions, but their signatures are invalid if the document is altered after the fact.

Revisit your will if your assets change. If your assets change after you write the will, you should edit the will to include these changes, or execute a new will. Make modest changes with a codicil. If you need to make minor changes, use a "codicil. Make substantial changes with a new will.

Substantial changes should be made via a new will. It is not uncommon to replace a will if the first will is made at in early age. Your children will grow; you may divorce and remarry; or your financial situation could change drastically -- any of which would require such substantial changes that only a new will is appropriate.

Store the will safely. Your will is not filed with the courts until after your death. Make sure that you store the will somewhere that can be found after your death. Consider storing your will in a safe at your home or in a safety deposit box at your bank. Many people give their wills to an attorney for safekeeping, or tell their named executor where the will is located.

Give a copy to your executor. Consider handing over a copy of your will to your executor in case something happens to the original. Make a note to yourself. In the event that you forget where your will is stored, you will be able to tell your executor, spouse or other party. Grab a pen and some paper, and follow the steps above. Make sure your handwriting is legible.

Not Helpful 0 Helpful Not Helpful 2 Helpful How do I state that all of my pets are to be taken to a vet and put to sleep? Mariann Quarts after my death. Even better, leave money for their care after your death. Not Helpful 9 Helpful In order for any legal document to be invalid for reason of mental illness, the person making it must be declared incompetent by a court of law. Being prescribed medications for depression or other conditions is not an automatic disqualification, and depression is generally not a mental illness that makes people incompetent.

Not Helpful 3 Helpful In most states, you must be 18 or older to write a legally valid will, according to USA. But there may be extenuating circumstances to writing an earlier will. Not Helpful 4 Helpful My spouse and I have joint ownership of our property, but no will.

Would I have to divide my assets with my daughter if my spouse passes away? No, the assets will go to you unless he has a will specifying something else. Not Helpful 5 Helpful Does a will have to be hand written or can it be typed and signed by the holder and witnesses? It is advisable to type the will as it being handwritten may have unforeseen problems with clarity of writing which may lead to your wishes not being followed after passing.

If you have assets that are yours, your should be able to write a will at any age. Not Helpful 1 Helpful 9. How can I leave six acres of wilderness land to six friends, so that the last one alive receives the land? You could grant them joint ownership with the condition of never being able to sell until there was only one owner.

Not Helpful 6 Helpful The same way you add someone in: Not Helpful 16 Helpful My husband has a US passport. How can I write a will?


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If you've got assets and people you'd like to look after, making a will is crucial: read our guide on will writing cheaply - or even for free, online. Will writing services work via phone, online, or face to face at your home – for example, most members of the Society of Will Writers will come to you (apart from a small percentage that operate.