Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

Full Bio →

Written by

Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

Full Bio →

Reviewed by Jeffrey Johnson
Managing Editor & Insurance Lawyer

UPDATED: Sep 3, 2020

Advertiser Disclosure

It’s all about you. We want to help you make the right legal decisions.

We strive to help you make confident insurance and legal decisions. Finding trusted and reliable insurance quotes and legal advice should be easy. This doesn’t influence our content. Our opinions are our own.

Editorial Guidelines: We are a free online resource for anyone interested in learning more about legal topics and insurance. Our goal is to be an objective, third-party resource for everything legal and insurance related. We update our site regularly, and all content is reviewed by experts.

Can you write your own Will? Sure you can. You can also build your own house, but that doesn’t mean you should.

A Will is an important legal document that contains your instructions and wishes for handling your estate and distributing the property and assets you own in your own name after you die.

What should a Will contain?

  • The names of the people you want to leave your property to – your beneficiaries.
  • And special gifts or property you want to leave – such as the vacation house to my son and the boat to my daughter and $20,000 to my college.
  • The percentage of the remaining assets each beneficiary should receive – such as each of my 3 children should receive an equal share of my estate, or perhaps my sister should receive 10%, my son John and daughter Emily should each receive 20%, my son Bill 10% and the remaining 40% should be divided up amongst my grandchildren.
  • A Guardian for the care of your Minor children if the other parent is not available.
  • Arrangements for handling the property that going to minors or young adults – such as holding it in trust and distributing it in stages starting at age 21.
  • The name of the person you want to handle your estate and distribute the assets, called the Executor or Personal Representative.

Your Will should be written carefully, to comply with your state’s laws. In order to be valid the Will should be writing, you should sign it at the end, in front of 2 or 3 witnesses who will also sign it as witnesses. The witnesses should be people who would not benefit as a result of the Will. Failing to have the Will properly witnessed, and being unable to locate the witnesses years later, is often a major problem. So having the witnesses also sign your state’s form of self-proving affidavit is highly recommended.

Your Will generally does not control who gets your life insurance money or your retirement accounts, such as an IRA or 401k. They go to the beneficiaries you named in the policy or plan.

There are many books, software packages, and online resources and document preparation services that promise to help you prepare a Will. But it’s more than just a document that you generally need. Unless you have a very simple family situation, and very few assets, the very best homemade or online Will is no a substitute for the personalized legal advice based on your wishes and needs, and can help you create a plan that would achieve what you’d want, in a tax efficient manner, if something happens to you.