The Do's and Don’ts of Writing a Will

The Do's and Don’ts of Writing a Will

May 03, 2024

Wills are widely used in estate planning because they help ensure your final wishes are known and followed.

But many American adults, especially younger adults, don’t have a will prepared. If you pass away without a will (known as “dying intestate”), the state will determine where your assets will go and the court will appoint a guardian for any minor children. But the state might not make the same decisions you would.

That’s why it's essential to have a will. To be considered enforceable, a will must be:

  • Written
  • Signed and witnessed
  • Properly processed through your state’s probate system

When creating your will, follow these important do's and don’ts: 

DO: See an attorney

Wills are complex legal documents. A lawyer can help you determine what needs to be included in your will. And they can ensure it's written in a legally binding way.

While there are many online resources for writing wills, they are not going to provide the specific legal advice you need. Your will may not be executed appropriately or signed correctly, or it may contain errors that could prevent it from being enforced.

DON’T: Put off updating an existing will

You may need to update your will every few years for several reasons. Perhaps you need to designate a new health care power of attorney. Maybe you need to add a new child to your will, or you inherited money and need to make sure those assets are now included. When these changes happen, remember to update your will.

DO: Create a living will

Part of your will can include health care directives. A living will details your medical care wishes if you can't make your own health care decisions or communicate those wishes due to severe illness or injury. It also designates someone as your health care power of attorney and your power of attorney. A health care power of attorney is a person who can make health care decisions on your behalf. A power of attorney is a person who can make legal decisions for you. 

When choosing your power of attorney, guardians for your minor children or an executor of your will, find someone you trust. Talk to the person before you write up your living will to make sure they are willing to perform those duties on your behalf if needed.

DON’T: Make alternative copies of your will

A will is a legal document and is not something you should get creative with. Don’t make alternative versions of your will because this may render your signed, witnessed original will invalid. Once you have a properly written and witnessed will, don't change it without consulting an attorney.

DO: Include pets in your will

While you may consider your pets part of the family, the law regards them as personal property. That means you can denote in your will who will take (and take care of) your pet if you pass away. If you don’t include your pet in your will, you can’t guarantee they will continue to have a good life after your death.

DON’T: DIY your will

Holographic wills are simply handwritten, signed and dated by the person wishing to dispose of their estate. There are no formalities and, often, no witnesses. While some states recognize and honor holographic wills, many states do not. Even those that accept them often have specific requirements.

Your will is too important to leave to chance. Doing it in a way that will ensure its validity doesn’t have to be massively time-consuming or expensive.  

Working with an attorney specializing in estate law will help ensure your pets have a safe place to live, your assets are divided how you would want them to be, and your personal care preferences are honored. With an experienced, trustworthy lawyer on your side, you can make sure your wishes are followed after you're gone.