How To Draft a Will without a Lawyer

Updated September 14, 2023
11 min read
How To Draft a Will without a Lawyer


When it comes to planning for the inevitable, many are curious about how to draft a will without a lawyer. Whether you're taking a DIY approach due to budget constraints, personal preference, or sheer curiosity, writing a will without a lawyer is indeed achievable. This comprehensive guide delves into the process, answering the question on every estate planner's lips: Can one write a will without a lawyer?

Understand What a Will Is

A will, in legal terms, is a crucial document that outlines how you want your assets distributed upon your passing. When you decide to write a will without a lawyer, it's pivotal to understand the scope of what a will can encompass under U.S. law. Generally, a will can include specific provisions for a vast array of assets, including real estate, personal property, and even digital assets.

For instance, under the Uniform Probate Code (UPC), which serves as a primary source in the U.S. for estate and probate law, when writing a will, you can specify instructions not just for sizable assets like your home but also for sentiments like family heirlooms, art pieces, or your beloved pet.

What a will can include

Primarily, a will details how you wish your assets to be allocated after your death. From your beloved fishing boat, celluloid treasures, or exhaustive book collections to cherished heirlooms or real estate properties, these personal possessions and more can all be part of your heritage when you write a will.

When writing a will, you can include a vast array of assets such as:

  1. Personal property: This includes tangible assets such as cars, jewelry, furniture, collectibles, and other personal items. 

  2. Real estate: Any real estate owned solely by you can be passed on through a will. This could be the family home, a vacation cabin, or any other property. 

  3. Financial assets: These are liquid assets, such as bank accounts, stocks, bonds, and other investments. 

  4. Business interests: If you are a solo business owner who decides to write a will, you can pass on your business stake or shares.

  5. Intellectual property: Copyrights, patents, and royalties can also be included when writing a will without a lawyer.

Remember, when you write a will without a lawyer, it's crucial to be thorough and precise, clearly identifying each asset and the beneficiary it is intended for.

What a will cannot do

While understanding how to write a will, it's crucial to acknowledge that a will isn't a catch-all document. Indeed, certain aspects of your life and property cannot be controlled through your will. Even if you decide to write a will without a lawyer, these areas remain outside a will's jurisdiction:

  1. Jointly owned property: Property held under joint tenancy, where the surviving owners automatically inherit your share, can't be included in a will.

  2. Living trust: Any property held under a living trust is also off-limits to a will and is transferred directly to the beneficiaries listed in the trust document.

  3. Life insurance proceeds: These are usually paid directly to the named beneficiary, regardless of any instructions you might include when writing a will.

  4. Dependent responsibilities: While you may express your wishes concerning the guardianship of your minor children in your will, legal guardianship is ultimately decided by the court.

Therefore, when deciding to write a will without a lawyer, keep in mind that a will can't dictate distributions or stipulations in these areas.

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DIY Will: Preparing Yourself

Before you start to write a will, it's important to weigh the pros and cons and understand the basic legal requirements for this document.

The pros of writing a will on your own

Opting to write a will without a lawyer offers several benefits. The most apparent advantage of making a will without a lawyer is the substantial savings compared to hiring an attorney. Additionally, the availability of online tools and resources can simplify the process, negating the need for in-depth legal knowledge. Some key benefits include:

  • Cost savings: The financial benefit is one of the most enticing reasons to write a will without a lawyer. Attorney fees can quickly add up, and sidestepping these can yield significant savings.

  • Accessibility: The rise of digital platforms has made it easier than ever to write a will without a lawyer. Individuals can now access numerous free and paid online templates and tools.

  • Learning experience: When you write a will, you engage yourself in a valuable learning experience. It might necessitate some initial research, but in the end, your legal literacy may improve.

  • Greater control: Ultimately, choosing to write a will without a lawyer allows you to maintain greater control over the process. It can be reassuring to have a direct influence and understanding of each clause within your will.

The cons of writing a will on your own

While it's true that with careful research and attention to detail, you can write a will without a lawyer, it's important to be aware of the potential downsides that come along with it. Here are a few cons to consider:

  • Legal lingo headache: The process of writing a will without a lawyer might mean wading through a sea of legal jargon, which might be daunting if you're not familiar with the terminology.

  • Complex navigation: Estate laws can be intricate and complicated. Figuring out these legal intricacies is often an uphill task when you're trying to write a will without a lawyer.

  • Legal pitfalls: If your DIY will is not done correctly, it could lead to potential legal issues down the line, affecting how your assets are distributed.

The basic legal requirements for a will

Despite legal complexities, it's viable to write a will without a lawyer by adhering to some fundamental requirements. These laws change over time and across regions, but some tenets remain constant.

For instance, there are typically restrictions around age; you need to be of legal age, typically 18 years or above, depending on the jurisdiction, to write a will. 

Moreover, being in a sound mental state, also known as 'testamentary capacity,' is vital. This ensures that you understand your actions when you choose to write a will. 

Another critical factor is having disinterested witnesses present when the will is signed. These witnesses cannot be beneficiaries under the will. 

Last but certainly not least, your will document must contain a clear declaration stating it is indeed your last will and testament. This strengthens its legal standing, safeguarding your intentions even if you write a will without a lawyer.

Steps To Write Your Own Will

As you embark on your quest to write a will without a lawyer, preparation is key. Begin by bringing together all pertinent documents, such as property deeds, bank statements, and life insurance policies. When your groundwork is complete, it's time to get down to the business of writing a will without a lawyer. Here are the key steps:

  1. Draft a statement unambiguously declaring the document as your last will.

  2. Choose an executor, the individual responsible for carrying out your will's instructions.

  3. Identify your beneficiaries — the individuals or organizations entitled to your property after your demise.

  4. Detail how you want your assets distributed amongst your beneficiaries. This ensures your intentions are crystal clear, minimizing the chances of disagreements.

  5. If you have children or dependents, appoint a guardian if necessary.

The final step to writing a will without a lawyer is signing your will. Sign the will in the presence of witnesses, usually two, who aren't beneficiaries and don't have any personal interest in your will. This makes your document legally binding when you write a will without a lawyer.


Writing a will without a lawyer is quite possible and can be a sound choice for many. It's certainly a hands-on approach and can definitely save you some money. However, it's crucial to understand that while you can write a will without a lawyer, it does require serious attention to detail and an understanding of certain legal procedures. Each step in the process should be done meticulously, with due diligence in meeting the necessary legal requirements pertinent to your state.

The key to successfully writing a will without a lawyer lies in equipping yourself with accurate information and using reliable resources wisely. From understanding what a will can and cannot do to leveraging online will-making tools, each step can help your DIY will creation endeavor. So, while you march forward with your decision to write a will without a lawyer, remember to tread carefully to ensure its validity. In case you still have any hesitations, consult a reliable attorney

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the risks of writing a will without a lawyer?

When you opt to write a will without a lawyer, the most notable risk is the potential for errors that may render your will invalid. For instance, it's easy to fall into seemingly minor mistakes such as improper witness validation or forgetting to include critical details like the appointment of an executor — errors that can complicate the will validation process. 

How can I make sure my will is valid without a lawyer?

When working out how to draft a will without a lawyer, ensuring its legitimacy is paramount. A will must meet several fundamental requirements to be deemed valid. These include clearly stipulating that the document is your will, having the will signed by you, and ensuring that disinterested parties witness and sign your will. 


For instance, a valid will typically begins with a statement like "I, [Your Name], declare this to be my Last Will and Testament..." This strategy ensures that you are crafting a will without a lawyer correctly and legally.

Can a handwritten will be as legitimate as one done by a lawyer?

Yes, absolutely! If you're wondering how to write a will without a lawyer and pondering the legitimacy of a handwritten will, rest assured, a handwritten or "holographic" will can be considered valid too. But, it's crucial to understand that the laws surrounding this document vary from state to state. 


For instance, while it's acceptable in California, a handwritten will would be completely invalid in Florida. So, ensure all specific state requirements are met when making a will without a lawyer in this form.

What happens if I make a mistake while drafting my will without legal representation?

Mistakes made while writing a will without a lawyer can have significant consequences, like leading to unnecessary legal disputes or will contests. Worse, if the will is deemed invalid, it could result in intestacy, with state laws dictating your asset distribution. 

Picture this: you accidentally omitted a beneficiary or incorrectly identified an asset — these errors could lead to misunderstandings and potential court disputes.