I wrote my first holographic (handwritten) will at age 27, right before taking off on a six-month around-the-world adventure.
Why Should You Write Your Will Today?
Contrary to popular belief, writing your own will is not something that should only be considered by "older folks". If you’re anywhere over the age of 18, writing your own will could potentially save a lot of hassle and heartache for your loved ones should anything happen to you.
It also doesn’t have to be a big deal, a huge headache, or even a drain on your bank account. In fact, depending on your circumstances, it might only take you 10 minutes and cost you a sheet of paper and a little bit of ink.
"The number of young U.S. adults (18–34) with a will increased by 63% in 2020, the year of the pandemic."
Writing your will today can ensure that your property, money, and any assets are distributed according to your wishes—therefore making sure that you are doing things the way you want to, until the very end.
What You'll Learn in This Article
- The difference between simple and complicated wills
- Why it’s important to write a will, no matter your age
- The cost of creating a will
- Laws in different locations
- How to write your own will today in 14 easy steps
Simple vs. Complicated Wills
A final will and testament, often referred to simply as a "will", is a legal statement of your final wishes should you die. An "estate" refers to anything you have left behind (any possessions, assets, etc).
There are "simple" wills, which may be easy to write yourself because your life and estate are fairly simple. And there are "complicated wills", in which case you may need to consult a lawyer because your life and estate are fairly complicated.
Examples of Simple Circumstances
- You don’t have that many assets
- You don’t expect anyone to contest your will
- You don’t have any children or spouses from previous marriages
- You don’t have any dependents with mental health issues or special needs
Examples of Complicated Circumstances
- You share a property with someone other than your spouse
- You own property overseas
- You already have, or want to set up, a trust
- You own a business
- You live part of the year overseas and have assets there
Example of a Simple Will
Joe was only 37 years old when he was hit by a drunk driver. Joe had written his will just last year when his friend told him writing a will could just take a few minutes.
Joe’s simple will outlined who he wanted to inherit his savings account, stock investments, and other assets (his pregnant wife and 4-year-old daughter); his baseball card collection (his younger brother); his ‘74 Ford pickup truck (his father); his extensive library of books (his mother), and his old guitar (his best friend).
His will also stated that he would like to be cremated, not buried, with his ashes spread in the Pacific Ocean, and that the cost of his funeral should be taken from his savings account.
Thanks to Joe taking the time to write down his final wishes, his loved ones were able to grieve freely without the burden of having to sort through his assets and the big paperwork headache (and potential family disputes) that comes with that. His final "gift" to each of them was a comfort in their loss. They were also relieved to know his specific instructions for burial.
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Example of a Complicated Will
Sam, who had a peanut allergy, was also just 37 years old when one day he accidentally ingested a peanut and died. Sam had been married and divorced twice, and had children with each of his ex-wives. He had joint custody of his children, one of whom was special needs. He also jointly owned an investment property with friends. Luckily, Sam had hired a lawyer and written his will at 35.
Thanks to his thoughtful actions, Sam’s family didn’t have to take care of his complicated state of affairs when he passed away. They were free to grieve their loss without worry.
Why It’s Important to Write a Will, No Matter Your Age
So many people decide to put off writing their will until "later," but we all know how badly procrastination can bite us in the behind down the line. Let’s look at a few of the most common reasons to procrastinate writing a will.
“I am too young to write a will.”
Actually, if you are aged 18 or older, you are exactly the right age to write your first will. As a legal adult, you are legally responsible for your own possessions, property, and actions. The reality is that no one can predict when they will die, and for this reason, it’s never too early to be prepared.
“Writing a will is too difficult.”
Many people don’t realize that it can be fairly simple to write a will if your situation is not too complicated. It might be as easy as writing down your wishes on a piece of paper. Even if it is complicated, a lawyer can help you write it up in no time.
“It will be too expensive.”
If you fall into that simple category, writing your will might only cost you some ink. Even if you think you might fall into the complicated category, many lawyers offer a free 15-minute consultation. Research free or low-income legal help in your area.
“My spouse or children will automatically inherit my possessions, so what’s the point?”
Some property may be automatically inherited by your spouse or children if you die without a will, but the rules vary widely, and the only way to guarantee anything is to write down your wishes.
“I don’t own anything valuable.”
You might be surprised to learn the value of the things you own; if not for their monetary value, then for their sentimental value to your loved ones. Either way, writing your will is still the responsible thing to do—it helps simplify matters after your death.
“I don’t want to think about my death.”
Understandable, but not a good excuse to delay. Just one hour of your time now could potentially save thousands of dollars (and a lot of heartache for your loved ones) later.
The Typical Costs of Creating a Will
The cost of creating a will for yourself will vary depending on the method you choose. Below are some popular options.
1. Online Do-It-Yourself Kit
Using an online service to create your will might only set you back anywhere from $10 to $150. The benefits of using one of these services’ templates are obvious: easy, straightforward, cheap. A template means you don’t miss anything.
If you choose this option, be sure to research the company first. Do they have great reviews? Are their guidelines appropriate for your particular state or country?
If you find yourself falling into the complicated category, you may need help. If you choose to hire a lawyer you can expect to pay anywhere from $300 and up for a basic will, and $500 and up as it gets more complicated—all the way up to $1,000 or more. But don’t forget, it’s money well spent because it will save money later.
- Ready as much as you can before you get onto the lawyer’s clock. Write up a specific list of all of your assets and final wishes. Take statements from your bank, mortgage, and insurance; any property deeds; other financial documents, along with your social security number (and that of any spouse or dependents).
- Lawyers in rural areas are much cheaper than in big cities.
3. Writing Your Will on a Piece of Paper (Holographic Will)
What?! Is this even legal? Well, it is, but it depends very specifically on where you live. There are many U.S. states and countries around the world where a "holographic" will, or a will that is entirely handwritten by you, is legally acceptable.
Each different location, however, has its own specific requirements that you must follow closely in order for the holographic will to be valid. For example, in some locations, you simply have to handwrite your entire will. In other locations, you also need to have one, two, or even three witnesses (to witness your signature, not the entire document).
Make sure you understand the specific requirements of your state and/or country before attempting to write a holographic will.
U.S. States That Allow Holographic Wills as of 2021
Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Hawai'i, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wyoming
Other Countries That Allow Holographic Wills
Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Canada, Estonia, Germany, France, Italy, Latvia, Mexico, New Zealand, Philippines, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom
Other countries may allow holographic wills with certain restrictions (such as they are only accepted in emergencies or for military personnel).
How to Write Your Will in 14 Easy Steps
Whether you are choosing a lawyer, online service, or holographic will, it’s best to start out with a piece of paper and a pen (or, of course, your laptop and a Word/Google Doc).
Here’s what you’ll need to include for a successful, legally binding will.
You must start your will with a declaration and your personal details, so that the validity of your will cannot be contested later.
1. “I, Mary Skye Robinson, of sound mind and body, declare that this is my final will and testament."
2. Provide your social security or driver’s license number.
3. Include your physical address.
A beneficiary is anyone to whom you will be leaving an inheritance: your spouse, children, parents, friends, even a charity.
4. List the full names and physical addresses of all beneficiaries.
An executor is someone you trust to carry out your wishes. A trustee is someone to handle your trust if you choose to create one.
Choose someone highly trustworthy and capable of handling financial matters. You can choose a friend, a relative, or even a bank. The bank will charge fees for their service. It’s a good idea to choose a first and second option, in case of unforeseen circumstances.
5. Name your executor and/or trustee(s) with their full names and physical addresses. Note: Also name an alternative executor and/or trustee.
Guardians and Custody for Minor Children
A guardian is someone who will care for your minor child/children until they are 18. Choose your guardian wisely; they should be someone you trust has good parenting skills, values, and principles that are similar to your own.
6. Name a guardian with their full name and physical address. Note: Also name an alternative guardian.
List of Assets
An asset is something you own that has significant value. Here are some examples of common assets: real estate, bank accounts, investments, retirement accounts, life insurance, a business you own, artwork, cars, jewelry, collectibles.
Once you’ve listed your assets, calculate your "net worth" to get an idea of the value of your estate. You can calculate your net worth by subtracting the total value of your liabilities (any debts you might have—think credit cards, mortgage, the cost of your funeral, etc) from the total value of your assets.
Knowing your net worth is useful: if you choose, you can simplify what assets your beneficiaries receive by stating what percentage of your estate you’re leaving them. Here’s an example: "I leave 50% of my estate’s value to my wife; 25% to my children; 15% to my mother and father, and 10% to my local Humane Society."
When listing assets, be very specific. Write down the bank account numbers, VIN number of vehicles, and property title numbers. Note: life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and some bank accounts (if they already have a beneficiary) do not need a beneficiary note, but still must be listed.
7. List your assets.
8. Name the beneficiary for each asset; alternatively, note the percentage of the estate each beneficiary will receive. Note: also name alternative beneficiaries.
A gift means is something that is not of significant monetary value like an asset is; for example, gifts under $1,000 value. Some examples of gifts are leaving your old guitar to your best friend, your succulent collection to your sister, your antique cookbook to your son.
Be very specific to avoid confusion. For example, "I leave my black Les Paul Special-II guitar and Katana-Mini amp to Samuel Harris" instead of "My old guitar to Sam".
9. List any gifts and the beneficiary for each gift.
Your funeral arrangements are entirely up to you. Here are a few things to consider:
- Would you like to be cremated or buried in a casket?
- If you’re cremated, would you like your ashes spread somewhere special, or to dwell in the home of a loved one?
- If you’re buried, what cemetery plot and casket would you prefer?
- You can also choose a burial pod under a tree sapling.
- In Washington, D.C., you can even choose to be ‘composted.’
- The more specific you can get, the easier it will be for your family and friends.
What kind of funeral would you prefer? You can choose a standard funeral, a wake, an open or closed casket, or even a wild party for your family and friends. It’s all up to you.
10. Describe in detail which type of funeral arrangements you would prefer.
Can you think of any other wishes not included in this list? You may, for example, be thinking about your pets. It’s illegal in most states to name your pet as a beneficiary, however, you can still leave instructions for their care that include naming a guardian of sorts, and leaving that guardian funds to care for your pet.
You may also wish to include a "Living Will", which is a written declaration by you with instructions for medical staff should you become gravely ill and unable to communicate your wishes yourself. An example of this is referred to as "permission to pull the plug" in a situation where you sustained brain damage and are in a permanent vegetative state.
11. List any other wishes.
Signature, Date, and Witness
If you’re hiring a lawyer, make an appointment and take this list with you.
If you’ve chosen an online DIY service, input your answers to their template and follow the instructions. If you’ve decided a holographic will is right (and legal) for you, make sure your list is handwritten clearly.
12. Choose a witness, or even better, a few witnesses. They cannot be anyone already mentioned in your will. Then, add your signature and the date to your will in the presence of the witness(es).
13. Have the witness(es) add their signature(s) and the date.
As an extra measure of security, you can choose for you and your witness(es) to sign a sworn statement (affidavit) in front of a notary public. This is optional, but it helps simplify things for the court later when they are determining the validity of your will. This is called a "self-proving" will.
Store Your Will In A Safe Place
14. Keep your will in a safe place. You can keep your will in your bank's safe deposit box, with your lawyer, or in a locked safe at home. If you live in a tropical or humid environment, you may want to keep your will in a plastic covering.
Are you more of a visual/auditory learner? Check out this short video on writing your own will provided by Free Advice, a collection of U.S. legal specialists.
- 2021 Wills and Estate Planning Study | Caring.com
- States Where Holographic Wills Are Legal | Legalzoom.com
- Difference Between a Simple and Complex Will | Attorneys.com
- Cost of a Making a Will | Investopedia.com
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2021 Jasmine Hanner