7 Easy Steps to Writing Your Own Last Will & Testament [Free Forms]

How to Write Your Own Will Free

Perfection is sometimes the enemy of complete. This is definitely the case with personal finance, life insurance, and estate planning.

The statistics show that many people do not have a proper Last Will and Testament.

Since I’d rather see more of you have something (vs nothing), I’m going to present the steps to making a Last Will and Testament using forms you can download for free.

Note that I’m not a lawyer and nothing here should be considered real, legal advice. But if you want legal advice right now, checkout Just Answer. They have experts available 24/7.

One of the most important documents you will ever complete in your life is your Last Will and Testament.

Your Will is your last opportunity to express your wishes when it comes to your property, your money, and your children if they are minors. There are many other reasons you need a will which I will get into below.

While there are many professionals out there that are willing to help you complete your Will, they are often expensive.

The good news is that you can write your own Will for a fraction of the cost by using free Will forms.

There are dozens of generic, free Will forms out there that will give you the backbone you need to structure your will appropriately.

While using a free Will form isn’t required, it does make writing your will significantly easier than trying to draw one up from scratch.

If you are married, find the form that accommodates both of your wishes and has paragraphs dedicated to the care of minor children, if you have them.

Download or Create a Free Last Will

Once you have your free will form downloaded and ready, follow these seven steps. Let’s get it done!

7 Super Simple Steps to Completing Your Will Now!

1. Include personal identifying information.

You need to make sure that there is no question that the Will you are creating is yours. On most free Will forms you will have the opportunity to fill in your name and your address, but you should also include your social security number and/or driver’s license number.

The addition of these key pieces of information makes it clear that the Will belongs to you. If your form does not have the appropriate space designated for this information, write it in alongside your name and address.

2. Include a statement about your age and mental status.

Again, your free Will template will have already included this information in the standard verbiage, so you will only need to validate that this information is there. It is usually located in the first paragraph after your name.

If your template does not include a statement that indicates you are of the age of majority and are of sound mind and body, either write it in or download a new form.

3. Designate an executor.

Your executor is the person who you trust to read your Will and ensure that your final wishes are carried out. In a free Will form, this should be located somewhere in the standard verbiage and should include a space for you to write in the name of your executor.

4. Decide who will take care of your children.

If you have minor children at home it is important to designate who will take care of them after you are gone. Locate the paragraph of the form that deals with the care of minor children and fill in the name of the person(s) you are designating to care for your children after you have passed on.

It is also important to make sure that your designee and you have spoken about your wishes and are in agreement well before you name them in your Will. Go ahead and call/text them now!

Related: Meet Fabric: Our Review of the One-Stop-Shop for Life Insurance and Basic Estate Planning

5. Choose your beneficiaries.

In your free Will form, you will have the opportunity to list the specific property and who will get these items when you pass on. It is important that if you have specific wishes for certain personal items that you list them here because if you don’t, those items may go to the wrong people.

A lot of family strife can be avoided by making sure that you document what items you wish to go to which people in your Will. If you run out of space on your free Will form, add a second sheet of paper.

6. List your funeral details.

This is another very important aspect of your Will as it will help your family members deal with your final arrangements. You should visit a funeral home and create a list of everything that has to be decided when you pass away so that each of these things can be addressed in your Will.

This will make sure that your final wishes are honored and that the burden is removed from your grieving family members. This is also the opportunity for you to list end of life requests such as whether or not you would want to be kept alive by artificial means, etc.

7. Sign and date your Last Will and Testament.

This should be done with two witnesses present as they will need to sign the Will as well. You won’t have to get a notary to sign it unless you wish to have this person as a witness.

Having a notary sign the will can be a huge help in the event you believe that there will be some conflict with regard to your final wishes. Keep in mind that your witnesses cannot be named as beneficiaries in the Will, so choose your witnesses carefully.

9 Reasons You Need a Will (or Will Revisions)

If you still need some reasons to get going with creating your Will, we’ve got some listed here for you.

We also included some reasons you might want to go back and revise your will when life changes.

1. To determine who will care for your minor children.

I did not write our first will until after our oldest child was born. We live several hours away from our closest family members, and if something were to happen to both of us, the state of Texas would decide who would take care of our child.

While it’s unlikely that two parents would die at the same time, I sleep better at night knowing that my wife and I have decided ahead of time who will take care of our children in that unlikely event.

2. To choose the person who will act as your executor.

An executor is a person appointed to take care of the affairs of the deceased person. That means the executor pays final bills, cancels credit cards, notifies banks and other establishments, and files the deceased’s final tax return.

Considering the amount of work and organization necessary to fulfill these duties, it’s important to choose someone trustworthy and capable.

Without a will, the court chooses an executor. In general, a surviving spouse will be the first choice, followed by adult children or other family members.

Since the executor has control over your estate, it could be disastrous if the court appoints someone who can’t handle the job.

3. To protect your family and loved ones.

Without a will, it is up to the state to decide what happens to your property, and that generally means your next of kin will get everything.

Individuals in blended families have to be particularly cautious since a death in the family often brings about ugly confrontations and reneged promises. This can be avoided if those promises are legally binding through a well-written will.

4. To speed up the probate process for your heirs.

While every estate must pass through probate, whether or not there is a will, having a will in place can help speed up the process.

When someone dies intestate, the probate court must decide how to divide up the estate without any guidance from the deceased, which can make the already-frustrating probate process go through long delays.

Even if you are on board with all of the above reasons for writing a will, it can be difficult to determine if you are at the right stage of your life to put one together. Often, it takes a “triggering” event to remind you that it’s a good idea to get your estate in order. Here are some of the common times you might want to write (or update) your will:

5. Your marital status changes.

Getting married is a very common triggering event for writing a will, but it’s important to remember that getting divorced, remarried, or buying a home with a long-term partner you are not married to are also good times to write or revisit a will.

6. You have children.

Making sure your children will be taken care of no matter what happens to you is an excellent reason to write a will. Updating your will with each new birth—even though most boilerplate Wills cover the possibility that you might have more children—is also a good idea.

7. You start a business.

No matter how you set up your business, striking out on your own can have major consequences for your estate when you pass away.

8. You purchase a house.

A house is a major asset, and it’s important that your estate plan covers the distribution of your major assets.

9. You haven’t updated your will in the last five years.

Things change over time, including health, relationships, finances, and local and national laws.

Everyone should revisit their wills every five years to make sure their estate plans still reflect their priorities.

What Else Do You Need? Living Will, Power of Attorney, Trust?

Most people know and understand the role of a Last Will, or at least they think they do, but that doesn’t stop a majority of Americans from not having a will. A last will and testament is the cornerstone and most critical piece of a person’s estate plan. And, it is more than instructions on who gets your worldly possessions.

A will is not the only estate planning document you need. Here is an essential estate planning checklist of the basic four tools you need to ensure your wishes are carried out and your family’s best interests are protected if you die or become disabled.

A Living Will

The next item on your estate planning checklist should be a living will. No one thinks they will become disabled in their lifetime. No one thinks they will need their loved ones to make the tough choices at the hospital, such as how long to stay on a respirator.

A living will help take the guesswork and the guilt out of your loved one’s hands. It spells out exactly what life-sustaining medical treatment you want to take place should you become incapacitated.

A living will is your written instructions on the type of life-sustaining medical treatment you desire and the length of time you want it. It instructs your loved ones and your doctors with your wishes even if you are not able to communicate or unconscious.

For example, you can request in your living will that a feeding tube be withheld if you are terminally ill. Or, you can specify in a living will exactly how long you are kept alive on life support.

Medical Durable Power Of Attorney

Another item on your estate planning checklist needs to be a medical durable power of attorney which is also sometimes called a health care proxy or health care power of attorney. A medical durable power of attorney authorizes a loved one or someone else you designate to make the medical decisions for you in case you can’t.

A medical durable power of attorney goes hand in hand with a living will. This document allows a person to make all medical decisions on your behalf from the routine decisions about procedures, medications, and other treatments that might not be specifically stated in your living will to even the most difficult decisions such as stopping life support.

Deciding on the representative to give medical power of attorney isn’t a choice that should be taken lightly.

General Power Of Attorney

A power of attorney allows you to designate a person to represent you. While a general power of attorney has the same power in most instances as you would if you were physically present, you can also scope specific or specified powers of attorney for certain situations as well.

A general power of attorney will allow the representative (e.g., a parent, spouse, or an adult child) to be able to act in your name should you become sick, disabled, incapacitated, or unable to manage your own financial and personal affairs.

A power of attorney is a large amount of power and should only be designated to a trusted person. For example, your representative who has your power of attorney has the authority to enter into contracts in your name, borrow money, and make major financial decisions for you.

A power of attorney allows your spouse or family to make fast and efficient decisions in your name without the delay of seeking court approval to conduct your financial and personal business transactions.

Estate Planning Checklist Honorable Mention: The Trust

A trust is one of the greatest and most creative estate planning tools created to transfer property and preserve family assets. There are many different types of trusts, and they are no longer simply for the rich and famous and their spoiled children.

Trusts have started to creep into mainstream financial planning and the estate planning checklist of more Americans.

Using a trust in your estate plan has many benefits. Trusts allow you to put conditions on how and when your assets are distributed after you die, and you can make these decisions well in advance of your death. They also help you reduce estate and gift taxes. If you want to consult a lawyer, consider Just Answer. It’s an online service that allows you to ask questions to all types of experts, including lawyers.

This is especially beneficial when you need to distribute assets to heirs efficiently without a high cost, delay, and or the publicity of probate court. Trusts also help you to protect your assets from creditors and lawsuits.

Everyone Needs To Have A Will

If you take nothing else away from this estate planning checklist, you should go out and get a last will and testament today. It is the most important tool in this estate planning checklist. It is an urban myth to think you do not have enough assets to warrant having a will.

Do you want your state to determine who will receive your property when you die? It isn’t always as cut and dry as you think it might be. Your property and assets may not automatically go to who you think are your next of kin.

Having a will also let you name an executor, which is also called a “personal representative” in many states. You can also waive the requirement for your executor to have to post a surety bond by listing it in your will. A last will is on the estate planning checklist because it also lets you determine who your children’s guardians will be after you die.

No one wants to think about their death, but it is a necessary evil. Do not leave your grieving relatives with more headaches and sorrow. Ensure that your final wishes are carried out by having these essential documents in the estate planning checklist before you need them.

Note: Please remember that I am not your lawyer, and nothing listed here should be considered real legal advice. You should seek the counsel of a competent lawyer in your area to help you complete your estate planning. Or to get advice from a lawyer on your best next steps, check out Just Answer.

My Case Study: Getting Our Last Will and Testament, Living Will, and Durable Power of Attorney

Three years after having our first child, we finally got around to completing our Last Will and Testament, Living Will, and Durable Power of Attorney.

If you were to review any estate planning checklist, these would be the top three items on the list.

Why?

Because they help make some really important decisions you should think about now, instead of when it’s too late.

Things like: what happens to your kids when you die?; what happens to your assets when you die?; and what happens when you are on life support and can’t make decisions for yourself?

I’m so glad to have this done. We were such slackers for the longest time.

I shared a post last year on how some people choose to do their Last Will and Testament for free. That’s not what we decided to do. Nor did we decide to use the online legal services (like LegalZoom.com). We have a friend that is a lawyer here in Texas and we decided to use his services.

I’m glad we did because I really didn’t know what was involved with the comprehensive estate planning process here in Texas. In the end, we’re left with the following 3 documents:

1. Directive to Physicians and Family or Surrogates (Living Will)

The Directive to Physicians, or Living Will, is a document that outlines your wishes, if you are ever in a “terminal” condition and/or “irreversible” condition AND unable to make your own medical decisions. I personally had the hardest time with this document.

We also completed a Medical Power of Attorney and HIPAA Release Authorization. This assigns an agent to help carry out your Living Will and make additional medical decisions for you.

2. Last Will and Testament

The Last Will and Testament is the main thing we wanted out of this process because we wanted to direct who would take care of our children if something were to happen to us. The Will also dictates what happens to our assets. We weren’t very nitpicky here. Lastly, we had to decide on an Executor (the person who executes the Will) and Guardians (multiple in case one isn’t around) for the children.

3. Statutory Durable Power of Attorney

Lastly, we now have a Durable Power of Attorney. This document gives an agent the authority to make financial moves on our behalf if we are ever incapacitated. In addition to the POA, we had to complete a Notice to Person Executing Power of Attorney (I guess this is Texas’ way of making sure you know what powers you’re giving up).

Working with a Lawyer

The process of getting all of this done was fairly straight-forward (4 parts): questionnaire, information gathering meeting, document preparation, and signing with witnesses.

First, we scheduled an information-gathering meeting with our lawyer, Robert. Because he’s a good friend, he offered to meet us at our home so we wouldn’t have to get a baby-sitter. The day before, he provided a questionnaire for us to complete. Some of the questions we were unsure about, which is why the meeting was critical.

The questionnaire was used to gather some basic information about me, Mrs. PT, our children, and our financial situation. We were also asked to provide answers to these questions:

  • Who will serve as Executor (of the Last Will and Testament)?
  • Who will serve as Guardians (multiple) for any minor children?
  • Who will serve as agent on the Durable Power of Attorney (multiple for each spouse)?
  • Who will serve as agent in the Medical Power of Attorney (multiple for each spouse)?

Next, our lawyer completed the actual documents and forwarded them to us for review. Upon acceptance, we scheduled a meeting to sign the documents in front of witnesses and a notary. The signing took less than an hour, and thanks to another friend lending her babysitting skills, we were able to attend the meeting without the kids.

Lawyer Fees vs LegalZoom.com

I couldn’t help myself. I had to compare costs. The cost to complete the estate planning documents outlined above with our lawyer (with friend and family discount) was around $550. If we were to complete the same services through LegalZoom.com it would cost around $350.

  • LegalZoom Last Will and Testament (comprehensive) – $79 x2
  • LegalZoom Living Will (comprehensive) $49 x2
  • LegalZoom Power of Attorney (comprehensive) $44.95 x2

Total $345.90

Based on our level of involvement (next to none), the personal service we received, and the fact that we’re supporting a friend, I’m comfortable with the extra $200 spent. Or if you’re still not sure which route to take, why not check out Just Answer? You can get advice from a lawyer 24 hours a day.

Most importantly, I’m happy to have this completed.

Related: Meet Fabric, One-Stop-Shop for Life Insurance and Basic Estate Planning

Have you completed your Will? Did you have these other documents completed too? Did you make your own Will or use a lawyer?

Photo by Caroline Hernandez on Unsplash

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About Philip Taylor, CPA

Philip Taylor, aka "PT", is a CPA, blogger, podcaster, husband, and father of three. PT is also the founder and CEO of the personal finance industry conference and trade show, FinCon.

He created Part-Time Money® back in 2007 to share his advice on money, hold himself accountable (while paying off over $75k in debt), and to meet others passionate about moving toward financial independence.

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  1. Philadelphia Lawyer says

    State laws can vary a lot. For under $500, most people can take one of these will templates to a lawyer and have it checked out, modified, and brought into compliance with the laws of the state they live in. Spending a small three figures now can prevent thousands of dollars in litigation among your survivors, not to mention the family trauma. For the life of me — so to speak — I’ll never understand why people get so penny wise, pound foolish about their wills.

  2. While something is better than nothing (intestacy) but I don’t think people should be running around writing their own wills…

    For instance #7 – 2 witnesses.
    Some Jurisdictions require only 1 witness,…some don’t let you use interested witnesses (i.e. a beneficiary contingent or direct)…etc.

  3. We purchased some forms online, and they are so overwhelming that we haven’t touched them in the two months since we bought them and probably never will. Call it $45 or so in stupid tax.

    Simple is best.