How to Write Your Own Will

You may not be able to take it with you, but you can help control where it goes if you learn how to write your own will, including how a will should be written, alternatives to wills and uniform probate code.

| July/August 1985

You may not be able to take it with you, but you can help control where it goes if you know how to write your own will.  

True, you may not feel as if you're on your last legs, and your wealth may not amount to a hill of beans anyway, but there are still a number of reasons why you should consider learning how to write your own will. Only by leaving a written testament can you be sure that events following your death will proceed the way you would have wished. What's more, you can probably write your own will— without a lawyer's aid—in a few hours' time.

Of course, the most obvious (and common) reason for having a will is to ensure that, after your death, your property will be passed on to the people of your choice. Each state has provisions for distributing the wealth of people who die without a will (called dying intestate), but you might be surprised by the nature of some of those regulations. Is Big Brother planning to take care of your relatives in the manner in which you'd want him to?

But ensuring your family's inheritance isn't the only, or even necessarily the best, reason for writing a will. Have you (to name an example that many parents would find especially disturbing) thought about who would be your children's guardian should you and your spouse both die in a traffic accident? In the absence of grandparents, the court could very well end up appointing someone . . . a person you might not even have known. Similarly, unless you specify the person—known as the executor—to administer the distribution of your property, the court will appoint someone to do the job.

A properly prepared will can also simplify probate (a legal process that mostly serves to increase the wealth of attorneys and governments), thereby preserving your wealth for distribution to your heirs. Complicated probate, where potential heirs contest the distribution of an estate, can result in as much as 20% of your wealth wandering off in lawyers' fees.

As you can see, then, there are good reasons for writing your own will. Read on, and we'll tell you how to do it.

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