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You don’t need a lawyer to make a will, but there are some basic requirements to follow. You can handwrite a legally valid will in most states, or an online will maker can walk you through the process and help ensure your will meets your state’s requirements.
An estate planning attorney can also help ensure that your will meets the required legal standards and covers all of your needs, but costs can range from a few hundred to over $1,000, depending on the complexity of your assets — which isn’t in everyone’s budget.
Here’s what to know about how to make a will without a lawyer, how much it costs to make one and our top picks for online will writing software. Some online will makers even provide access to state-specific attorneys.
» MORE: Estate-planning checklist
How do I make my own will?
Here are seven steps to think about.
1. Find out if your state allows holographic (handwritten) wills that haven’t been witnessed or notarized. This is the easiest way to write a will, and it’s free, but it may not be valid in Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, Washington or Wisconsin. Exact requirements can vary by state, though, including exceptions for active military .
2. Make sure your will meets your state’s requirements to be valid. Whether you’re writing it yourself or with the help of an online will maker, make sure it meets the legal standards to pass through your state’s probate court. Generally, you must be over the age of 18, of sound mind and have your will signed by at least two witnesses or notarized.
3. Properly account for your assets. You might want to have your assets appraised to determine their value. Be sure you understand what happens to assets that you jointly own or accounts on which you already have named a beneficiary, such as a life insurance policy.
4. Name your beneficiaries. Your will should detail as specifically as possible who you want to receive each of your assets, including each beneficiary’s full legal name and their relationship to you. This can reduce confusion when your will is settled.
5. Name an executor. An executor is the person who will settle your estate during the probate process and make sure your assets go to the right beneficiaries according to your wishes. This can be a person you trust, but it can also be a bank or trust company you work with.
» Who distributes the assets in your estate? Learn about the probate process
6. Get your will signed by witnesses or notarized. Know what you need to do to make your will official. In many states, for example, you’ll need signatures from two witnesses . In Colorado and North Dakota, for instance, you can have your will signed by a notary public instead . Louisiana requires both witness and notary signatures .
7. Update your will if anything changes. An outdated will may cause issues if it’s not properly updated. If you get married or divorced, have children or grandchildren or buy or sell a significant asset, consider adding a codicil to your document — or just write a new will from scratch. Some online will makers offer free updates; others require a monthly or annual membership to make changes.
How much does it cost to make a will without a lawyer?
A do-it-yourself will can cost you nothing. Some online services are free, and others can cost up to a few hundred dollars.
Online Will Maker
Nolo’s Quicken WillMaker (Read our Quicken WillMaker review)
Users who want an all-inclusive experience.
Trust & Will (Read our Trust & Will review)
Ease of use.
Rocket Lawyer (Read our Rocket Lawyer Online Will review)
LegalZoom (Read our LegalZoom review)
State-specific legal advice.
Do Your Own Will (Read our Do Your Own Will review)
Free will software.
Fabric by Gerber Life (Read our Fabric by Gerber Life review)