A will is a legal document that allows you, among other things, to designate how and to whom your property is distributed when you pass away. A will also allows you to name a guardian to care for your minor children, if you become unable to do so. If you've thought about creating a will, then you've probably wondered about the types of instructions that you can include, about how a will becomes valid, and about the forms of property that can be distributed. This section provides resources related to making a will, including an overview of the process, steps to help you begin planning for a will, a sample will, and an explanation of common errors to avoid. For quick reference, you can also download FindLaw's Guide to Writing a Will [PDF].
Choosing an Executor
One of the most important decisions to make when planning your will is choosing a competent and trustworthy executor. This person is entrusted with carrying out your estate instructions, and executors typically manage the estate's day-to-day affairs and make sure that estate bills are paid. As you decide on an executor, keep in mind that this person should be someone that your family members and heirs can work with.
Assets and Other Property
People tend to associate wills with the distribution of a person's assets and other property at death. This is certainly an important component of a will, although there's more to it. As you begin to plan your will, remember that some forms of property cannot be included. For example, you cannot distribute money that's held in a joint account, and generally, life insurance benefits cannot be included in a will (these payments automatically go to the policy's beneficiary).
Guardian for Minor Children
Another important benefit of having a will is the ability to name a legal guardian to care for your children, should you become unable to do so. Although this is an issue that many people choose to avoid thinking about, by naming a trusted guardian for your children, you're helping to ensure that they will have a bright future, even if the worst case scenario occurs.
State laws vary, so it's best to speak with an attorney if you have specific questions about your state's procedures and requirements for wills. In general, you must be of "sound mind" when you created your will, and you must have voluntarily signed it, meaning that no one coerced or tricked you into doing so. At least one person is usually required to serve as a witness when you sign your will, and if your will violates a law -- such as a state heirship law that requires you to name your children as heirs -- portions of your will can be disregarded, or the entire will considered invalid.
How a Lawyer Can Help
If your estate is relatively simple, you may be able to draft your own will. However, if you have questions, or if your estate is complex, you should speak with an estate planning lawyer. He or she can answer your questions and help you to create a suitable will that's clear in stating your instructions. This section provides a link for finding an experienced estate planning attorney in your area.