How to make a will without a lawyer

You don’t need an attorney to write a valid will.

Elissa

Elissa Suh

Published September 29, 2020

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KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Making a will without a lawyer can save you money, but it isn’t for everyone

  • People with large estates or a complex strategy for giving away their assets may benefit from having an attorney write their will

  • You should not include any asset in your will that already has a named beneficiary

  • Without a valid will, your assets and property will be distributed according to intestate laws

To plan for what happens to your assets and belongings after you pass away, you should write a last will and testament. When properly written, a will is a valid legal document that holds up in court, and you don’t need a lawyer to create one. You can make a will on your own by following the requirements set by the laws in your state. If you have a fairly simple estate, writing a will on your own can help you save money — a lawyer may charge a few hundred dollars or more for a will. But people who have more complex situations, like complicated beneficiaries or many assets, may benefit from using the services of an estate attorney. Two common ways of writing a will without a lawyer include following a will template or using an online will writing service.

Keep in mind that a will is just one part of an estate plan. You may also want to think about other useful estate planning documents, like an advance directive or power of attorney, to help plan for the future as well.

Who needs a lawyer to write a will?

You can make a valid will without the help of a lawyer, but there are some circumstances when you may benefit from having a legal expert write your will. For example, if you are providing for a beneficiary with special needs or want to have a blended-family, then you may benefit from working with an attorney. You should also consider a lawyer if your estate contains many assets and pieces of real estate or if you’re worried about any tax consequences, like estate tax or inheritance tax. An estate planning attorney can also help you write your will as part of a more comprehensive estate plan, including any special types of trusts that ensure your loved ones are properly cared for.

Check more situations when you should hire an estate lawyer.

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Two ways to make your own will

If you have a straightforward financial situation — you only have simple assets to give away, like your house and possessions, or are leaving everything to your spouse — then you might benefit from making a will on your own and saving on legal fees.

You can write your will completely on your own — whether typed or by hand, which is called a holographic will if your state allows — but it should contain the necessary legal language. You can find the details in your state’s legal statutes, but it may be difficult or arduous to sift through on your own.

Instead you can make a will by following a template, which you can find online. You’ll just fill in the blanks with your personal information, your beneficiaries and assets. Another way to make a will without a lawyer is by using an online service that guides you through the process. Sort of like a tax return service, a will-writing software or app will ask you questions — about your spouse and family, your beneficiaries, and your assets — and then it will create a will based on your answers. A will made this way could be more tailored to your needs compared to a template. You should always check to see that the template or will-writing service is meant for your state.

Learn more about how to make a will online.

What should you include in your will?

If your will isn’t properly constructed, it may be found invalid during probate after you’ve passed away. The court will declare you to have died intestate, or as if you never had a will at all.

Six things to include in your will

  • A declaration of who you are, your intent, and your signature
  • The names of your spouse and immediate family
  • Property and assets
  • Beneficiaries to receive them
  • An executor to manage the estate after you’re gone
  • A guardian for minor children

Check out the full list of requirements for a will to be valid. As long as you follow these rules, your will can pass muster in court. A good template or will writing service would take these requirements into account.

What should you never put in your will?

Do not use your will to pass on the proceeds of a life insurance policy (which comes with its own beneficiary designation), or bank accounts and retirement accounts, which can be made payable on death. You should also refrain from listing jointly-owned assets or assets placed in a trust in the terms of your will.

Including these assets in your will won’t necessarily invalidate it, but it could make things more complicated after you die and delay the time it takes your heirs to receive anything. If you want more control over how your assets are passed one, consider a trust. A trust is another estate planning option that can help you distribute assets to your beneficiaries. It takes more work than creating a will and it will likely cost more, but your beneficiaries can receive trust assets outside of the probate court. (You can create both a will and trust from Policygenius app for $280.)

See what else you should never put in your will.

Executing your will without a lawyer

Once you’ve written your will, you need to take a few more steps to make it legal so it holds up during probate. When you get a will through a lawyer, these final steps are typically taken care of by the attorneys right in their office. But when you write a will on your own, this process requires a little more work.

In almost every state, your will needs to be signed by two witnesses. It is their job to make sure that you’re of sound mind when you create the will. You’ll have to find your own witnesses, and every state sets its own restrictions on who that can be.

Learn more about witnessing a will.

You might also want to take extra steps to make your will self-proven with an affidavit. Including a self-proving affidavit with your will makes it so that your witnesses don’t have to appear in court to confirm the details of the will after you’ve passed away. If you use an online service to write a will, an affidavit might be included with the will.

Wills themselves don’t require notarization, but the self-proving affidavit does, so you and your witnesses will need to go to a notary public.

Find out where to get your documents notarized.

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Personal Finance Editor

Elissa Suh

Personal Finance Editor

Elissa is a personal finance editor at Policygenius in New York City. She writes about estate planning, mortgages, and occasionally health insurance. In the past she has written about film and music.

Policygenius’ editorial content is not written by an insurance agent. It’s intended for informational purposes and should not be considered legal or financial advice. Consult a professional to learn what financial products are right for you.

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