What is a Last Will?

cartoon of two women at dinner. one says, "I've been having this recurring nightmare that I don't spend the money in time and my kids inherit it all"

A last will is a legal document that outlines your instructions for what should happen upon your death. In your last will, you can specify gifts of things you own, who you would like to care for your minor children (if you have them), what you would like as a final resting place for your body, and any end-of-life ceremony requests.

How a last will works

In your will, you provide written instructions for what should happen upon your death to things you own and people or interests for which you are responsible. You name another person, called an executor or personal representative, to act as your trusted agent in carrying out your instructions.

Depending on your instructions and the value of assets passing through your will, your executor may act independent of or under the probate court’s supervision. The role of the probate court is ensure that all your outstanding debts and liabilities are paid, your assets are distributed to the correct beneficiaries, and the instructions provided in your will do not conflict with any superseding state law.

Depending on where you live, the size and complexity of your assets, and the nature of your instructions, the process to administer (carry out) a will can range from a couple months to well over a year.

What happens if you die without a will

If you die without a will, you forfeit the opportunity to direct what happens to things you own and the people and interests for which you are responsible. The intestacy laws of your state, which are the laws that govern the administration of estates for people who die without a will, take over.

Estate administration for individuals who die without a will generally costs more and takes longer than administration for individuals who have a will, leaving your loved ones with less. Additionally, these proceedings often lead to family disputes as different individuals who might inherit argue their claims. Moreover, assets transferring to new owners without the direction of a will or beneficiary designation may go to recipients other than those you would otherwise intend.

How to make a last will

The requirements to make a valid last will vary depending on state. Generally speaking, you must be a 18 years of age or older, of sound mind, and not under undue influence or duress.

Depending on where you live, you can create a last will three different ways:

  1. Typewritten last wills are the most popular form of wills today. You can make a typewritten last will by yourself, with the help of an estate planning attorney, or through an online estate planning platform like Just In Case Estates
  2. Handwritten wills, also called holographic wills, are permitted in some states. In most cases, to be legally valid these handwritten wills must either be in your handwriting or comply with the same signing requirements as typewritten wills
  3. Oral wills, also called nuncupative wills, are permitted in a few states, and many only under certain situations. In New York, for example, oral wills are only permissible if made by a member of the US armed forces while engaged in an armed conflict, a person serving with or accompanying an armed force during a war or other armed conflict, and a mariner while at sea

Creating a typewritten last will is generally advisable as this form is the most accommodating to provide detailed instructions, read, and update.

After you complete drafting your will, follow your state’s signing procedures to make it official and legally valid. While the exact signing requirements differ from state to state, most states require that you sign in the presence of two adult witnesses and/or a notary public.

Best places to make a will

You have a lot of options on where to make your will.

Free last will templates

The Internet is flooded with generic will forms and will templates, many of which are "free." You should exercise caution in using these free will forms and templates, however. The free will forms may not comply with your state's requirements, and the company providing the forms may be selling your personal information to third parties.

Making your will with an attorney

On the opposite end of the cost spectrum, many individuals choose to make attorney-prepared wills, which can cost $500 - $1500+ depending on where you live.

An attorney prepared will –– in particular one made with an attorney who specializes in estate planning –– is a great option if you can afford the extra expense.

Most people would be fine making their last will without an attorney, however, and when you learn the secrets to how attorney-prepared wills are priced, you may be less inclined to use one.

Premium online estate planning platforms

For the vast majority of Americans, premium online estate planning platforms offer the best way to make your last will.

With Just In Case Estates, you can create a legally valid, state-specific last will in as little as 10 minutes and for a fraction of the price of an attorney-prepared will –– all from the comfort of your home.

If you need any help along the way, our customer success team is available via live chat, phone, text, and email to guide you through the process.

You're more capable and closer to making your perfect last will than you think. Get started today, and get peace of mind knowing you have a plan for you and your loved ones.