Doing it Yourself

Making sure your will is valid

The steps above are simple to list, but you need to look at the details of each step to decide how complicated each one will be. Here are some of the challenges you may face.

In order to have a valid will you must be of legal age to make a will. In most states this means you are at least 18 years old, have been lawfully married, or are a member of the U.S. military. You must also be of sound mind and can attest that you are creating your will voluntarily.

Since all wills are subject to the probate process, it is crucial that you get it right. The probate court has the option of not validating any part of or your entire will if it doesn’t meet their standards.

  • In this case, the probate process will proceed as if you had no will, beginning with designating an administrator to manage your estate.
  • Even specific sections, especially ones like appointment of a guardian, which require very specific language, can be invalidated with the court making the decision for you.

Law itself is a very complex subject, so even things that appear to be straightforward can fool you.

You need to completely understand the difference between probate and non-probate assets enough to list the appropriate ones.

Using incorrect legal language, simple mistakes, like forgetting to put the date, or contradictory instructions may invalidate your entire will, or certain sections.

Invalidation results in leaving it to the court to decide on any unvalidated sections or instructions and a lot of extra time and money.

This also makes it much easier to contest the will.

State and federal laws concerning wills and estate taxes are constantly changing and most people are not able to keep pace with it.

Even if naming beneficiaries and distributing your assets appear easy, there may be documents or addenda to the will that would make it easier to update the will, list assets by type, and distribute assets to a wider group of beneficiaries.

When to get help

If your estate is too large and complex you may not be able to do it yourself.

You should consider getting professional help if any of these are true

You can only find a will template/program that is too basic to handle your needs.
Your estate is valued high enough to owe federal and/or state government estate taxes.
You own any trusts (no beneficiaries) or businesses.
Your tax returns will be very complicated.
You have real estate in another state or country.
You’re not sure what property you own or it’s value.
You want to leave property to a person with a disability.
You want to put conditions on how your beneficiaries will use the assets.
There is any chance that your will might be contested.
You have digital assets.

Other things to consider

You should be aware of ways to reduce estate and inheritance taxes before starting your will, otherwise you could miss out on saving this money.

You will expose items to the probate process that didn’t need to be. If you learn about and perform these steps later, you would need to redo your entire will.

Will you be able to anticipate and plan for all contingencies, such as the death of a beneficiary?

You may be able to envision most of them, but professionals have done this before and could suggest others.

Can the will template/program guide you the correct way to make special requests or inform you about those you can’t. For example, some states do not allow certain individuals to be disinherited.

In addition, remember how important all that legalese is for these requests to be recognized.

Once you have created your will, you may opt to have it professionally evaluated at that point.

It would assure the will is valid, but be less expensive than having it done entirely by an attorney.

Generic Will Templates

Law Depot

FindLaw

General References

Cole M. How to Format a Last Will & Testament. Legal Beagle website. Accessed: October 3, 2019.

Covelli J. The Dangers of Writing Your Own Will. Covelli Law Offices website. Posted: April 4, 2017. Accessed: September 26, 2019.

Diggs B. How to Write My Own Will. legalzoom website. Accessed:  September 26, 2019.

Garber J. Should You Write Your Own Will? the balance website. Updated: September 08, 2019.  Accessed: September 27, 2019.

Hannibal B. Using a Will Template. Nolo website. Accessed: October 3, 2019.

Kaminsky M. Five Common Mistakes Made in Wills. legalzoom website. Posted: December 2009. Accessed: October 3, 2019.

Kaminski M. Do it Yourself Will: Pros and Cons. legalzoom website. Posted: May 2015. Accessed: September 27, 2019.

Kaminsky M. How to Write a Will. legalzoom website. Posted: April 2016. Accessed: October 3, 2019.

Lake R. 4 Things to Know About Making a Will. smart asset website. Published: December 15, 2014. Accessed: July 17, 2019.

Robinson T. How to Write a Free Last Will & Testament. Legal Beagle website. Posted:  Accessed: October 3, 2019.

Signing a Will. FindLaw website. Accessed: October 9, 2019.

What Is a ‘Valid Will’? FindLaw website. Accessed: October 9, 2019. 

Writing a Will. everplans website. Accessed: July 17, 2019