How do I Draft a will?

Jessica Ellis

A will is a document that governs the distribution of assets and property following the death of the owner. In some cases it is possible to write a legally binding will without legal assistance, but people with significant assets or complex financial holdings may want to rely on the assistance of a lawyer to draft a will. Drafting a will can be a somewhat frustrating or even upsetting process, but many estate lawyers and experts insist it can help give both the owner and his or her heirs and beneficiaries great peace of mind.

It is recommended to have a will notarized.
It is recommended to have a will notarized.

A typical will consists of several sections that lay out the terms of distribution and management for a person's estate. Wills generally start with an introductory paragraph that asserts who the will is for, and that it supersedes any previous wills. The final part of drafting a will usually requires the estate holder to sign the document in the presence of at least two witnesses, who must also sign. Experts generally recommend having witnesses who are not beneficiaries, since this can lead to accusations of unfair influence later on. Some people then choose to have the will notarized to add additional legal weight to its veracity.

A lawyer can help someone write his will.
A lawyer can help someone write his will.

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In order to draft a will, a person must lay out the inheritance terms for each item listed. These are typically termed “bequests” and require a simple statement that says that a specific person is inheriting a specific item or items. Bequests may also be made to charitable organizations, or to establish trusts. Some people may include contingent bequests, which offer an alternative distribution plan should the initial beneficiary predecease the estate owner. Rather than list every single owned item, one possible way to draft a will is to bequeath all remaining items, besides those specifically mentioned, to a spouse or to the executor for distribution at his or her discretion.

Most people, when they draft a will, specify at least one executor for the estate. An executor can be a financial or legal professional, or may be a trusted friend or relative. The executor may have responsibilities, such as managing the distribution of bequests, overseeing accounts, and carrying out any actions requested in the will. Some people may choose to specify more than one executor, and may list exactly what powers the executor will have.

One final element that may be used to draft a will is the inclusion of burial and funeral plans. While thinking about burial may seem morbid, making decisions about these issues takes the burden off of loved ones who may not be sure which course to take following the death of the estate holder. Including burial plans can help prevent fighting between families by making wishes clear and incontrovertible.

Example wills and downloadable forms are often available online, and can help a person draft a will using legally clear technology. Books on how to draft a will are also usually available in bookstores, and often include details on special regional laws that may alter how a will is drafted. In general, wills must be typed, rather than handwritten, but must contain handwritten signatures by the estate holder and his or her witnesses.

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