How to Make a Will Without a Lawyer in 2024

Aug 21, 2023
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Here’s how to use an online estate planning service to make a will.

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Creating a will doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive with an online will maker. According to research published by Gallup, 24% of Americans 65 and older don’t have a will, but it’s important to have one to give your loved ones guidance on how to divide your assets after you’re gone.1

You can create your own with the help of an online estate planning service for an average fee of $160—much lower than the cost of an estate planning attorney, which can cost hundreds of dollars per hour.

This article will walk you through the basics of how to make a will, including how to write one and how to make sure it’s valid.

Why you can trust our expert review

Our Reviews Team consists of trained lawyers who have spent hundreds of hours researching estate planning and using the services we recommend. We only recommend services we find to be helpful and accurate. To develop our reviews and guidance, we:

What is a will and why do I need one?

A will, also known as a last will and testament, is a legal document that explains what happens to a person’s estate after they die. “Estate” refers to anything a person owns at the time of death. A will explains what happens with financial accounts, any type of property, and dependents. Wills are legally binding, but anyone can contest them (meaning challenge their validity) through the state court system.

Passing away without a will is known as dying “intestate” (in contrast, “testate” describes someone who has passed away with a will). When someone dies intestate, their estate goes through the probate process—the process of distributing an estate with or without a will—according to state laws.

If you have preferences for what happens to your property when you’re gone, you’ll need a valid will. Once your estate is in probate court, it’s too late for your family to give instructions, even if they know your preferences.

How to make a will without a lawyer in 7 steps

It doesn’t have to be difficult to write a will. You can do it yourself or hire an attorney. There are some circumstances where it might be beneficial to hire an attorney to create your will. Anthony Cetrangelo, Jr., Esq., a Florida attorney who focuses his practice in the areas of wills, trusts, estates, probate, trust administration and general corporate law, emphasized that you may want to hire an attorney, “if you have a large estate, complex family dynamics, cryptocurrency or other issues that could complicate your estate planning process.”

To create your will yourself, several reputable online services are available—such as Trust & Will, Quicken WillMaker & Trust, and LegalZoom—to create wills and other estate planning documents. These services help you write a will without the cost of an estate planning attorney.

If you know where you want your assets to go when you die, an online service may be a great choice. Follow our guide to create your will using an online service.

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Helpful hint: Listing all of your property and beneficiaries can be overwhelming. Consider making a checklist before you start using this step-by-step guide.

Step 1: Create an account with an online service

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The first step is to choose an online service and create an account. Some online services may allow you to download your estate planning documents before filling them out, and some may require you to answer an interactive questionnaire before filling out the documents for you. Check out our best online will makers article for recommendations.

Online estate planning services don’t offer legal advice, but some may provide access to attorney assistance for an additional fee. If you opt for this service, you can schedule a call with an attorney to look over your documents before they’re finalized and discuss questions about your estate plan.

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Helpful hint: When writing a will, consider attaching a letter to the final version. It’s a way to provide final words of love and support to your family, as well as any specific instructions or explanations you want to highlight.

Step 2: Designate an executor

You’ll need to choose someone to be in charge of your will and estate when you pass away. This person is called an executor. This can be a trusted family member, close friend, or a professional, such as a lawyer or accountant. They’ll need to agree to take on this responsibility before you can designate them.

Step 3: Identify beneficiaries

You can leave your estate to any person or institution you want, including family, friends, nonprofits, or schools. You can even leave part of your estate to your pet. You need to clearly identify all beneficiaries in your will to prevent confusion, which can prolong the probate process.

Step 4: Plan for your dependents

You should make arrangements for any minor children or adults with special needs under your care. This doesn’t always mean you designate a person to take care of your children—it can mean you designate a person to choose who takes care of your children if you die. Many people make arrangements for their pets as well.

Step 5: Prepare your assets

Keep in mind you may need to list beneficiaries in other places, such as your bank accounts. Make sure this information matches up so no one can question it during the probate process. If you’re leaving assets to someone who is younger than 18 or not of sound mind ⓘ“Sound mind” refers to the mental state of a person who has been declared by the court as not being able to think, reason, and make decisions in a clear, rational, and logical manner., you’ll need to designate a competent individual to manage that part of your estate for the beneficiary. Make sure records of real estate holdings, life insurance policies, and retirement accounts are all updated and available.

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Helpful hint: Have questions about retirement income? Take this Retirement Income Breakdown Assessment. The assessment will connect you with vetted financial experts if you need additional information.

Step 6: List your debts

Listing your debt while making an estate plan can give you an idea of how much will be left over when your debts are paid. Unpaid taxes, credit cards, student loans, and mortgages are all debts. If a debt is unpaid at death, the estate is usually responsible for paying it. In some states, if a person dies with more debt than assets, you may not have money left over in the estate for the survivors. In other states, laws require survivors to be paid first.

The debt will not pass to your survivors except in extenuating circumstances, such as:

Step 7: Execute your will

Once you’ve taken the steps above and filled in the corresponding sections of your will forms, your documents should be complete. An online will service will walk you through the process or provide instructions.

Then, it’s time to finalize your documents. Once you have the completed originals, you’ll need to do the following.

Sign your will and have it witnessed

At least three signatures are required for a valid will: your and two witnesses’ full names. You should print your name, above or beside the signature, and date it. The witnesses must see you sign the will. Most states require witnesses to be “disinterested,” meaning they don’t stand to inherit anything from you.

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Helpful hint: To ensure your will holds up in court, take the additional step of notarizing your will. You can find a notary at your bank or some FedEx or UPS locations, or you can hire a mobile notary to come to you.

Make copies

It’s important to have copies of your will to store away from the original, which you should keep in a secure place, such as a bank deposit box, lawyer’s office, or home safe. You should store the will with any other estate planning documents. It may even be helpful to have a written list of all the documents stored together, so anyone who retrieves them will know if something is missing.

Update your will when necessary

According to Travis Christiansen, Esq., a Utah estate planning attorney for over two decades, “most estate planning documents, including your will, should be updated every five years unless there is a life change like a marriage, divorce, a child [or grandchild] was born or adopted, or your income/belongings changed significantly – like [if] you won the lottery.”

Depending on the service you use, your online will-creation software may hold your will in a platform you can revisit and change easily. To update your will, you can either add a document to your will specifying the change to be made (this document is called a “codicil”) or write a new will that states your old will is no longer valid.

Will, living will, and power of attorney: What do I need?

A will is only one part of an estate plan. You may also want to consider a living will and a power of attorney (POA). Unlike your will, which provides guidance for after you die, a living will and POA are only valid while you’re alive.

A living will gives instructions for medical care and end-of-life decisions, such as what treatments you do and do not want, whether you want medical professionals to use life-extending measures, and other similar decisions. It guides family or medical staff to honor your decisions in case you’re unable to express your wishes, and it generally takes effect when you’re no longer able to communicate.

A POA designates a person to make decisions for you if you’re unable to, whether permanently or temporarily. This can include medical, financial, and/or legal decision-making.

Most online estate planning services provide all three documents for an additional cost. Here are a few scenarios to help you choose the right estate planning package for you.

Scenario 1

Fred is 60 years old, married with two kids. He has some money saved and plans to pay off his house in five years. He and his wife are in good health. Fred might consider purchasing an estate planning package with all three documents: a will, living will, and power of attorney.

Will: Recommended. Fred needs a will to ensure professionals distribute his money and other assets according to his wishes, rather than the default state laws.

Living Will: Recommended. Fred should also have a living will that makes end-of-life decisions in advance.

Power of Attorney: Recommended. Living wills may not be comprehensive and don’t take effect when a person is only temporarily unable to communicate. A POA ensures Fred’s wishes are honored any time he is unable to make decisions for himself. For example, in a medical emergency, a medical POA would take effect if Fred is only temporarily incapacitated.

Scenario 2

Lily is 70 and lives alone. She rents her apartment and doesn’t have any savings, but she does own her car. She has two living siblings who each have adult children. Lily wants to leave her car to her niece when she dies.

green checkmark icon Will: Recommended. It’s always a good idea to have a will. Lily can designate her niece as the beneficiary to receive her car. Otherwise, her estate will go through probate and ownership of the car may be split between her two siblings.

yellow checkmark icon Living Will: Not as important as a will. Living wills typically apply to end-of-life scenarios, but POAs can take effect any time a person is unable to communicate, even temporarily.

Power of Attorney: Something to consider. Lily might consider having a will and a POA. It’s unlikely she will become unable to make decisions for herself anytime soon, but it is possible.

Scenario 3

Glen and Susan are in their 80s with two grown children and several grandchildren. They live together but aren’t legally married and have no plans to get married.

Will: Recommended. Glen and Susan should both have a will. If either of them were to die, assets may automatically pass to their grown children rather than the surviving partner, since Glen and Susan aren’t married.

yellow checkmark icon Living Will: Not as important as a will. A living will would take the pressure off of the other partner for end-of-life decisions, but a POA is more comprehensive.

Power of Attorney: Recommended. If either of them were to become unable to communicate, decision-making authority might not automatically pass to the other partner. If Glen wants Susan to make decisions for him in an emergency, and vice versa, they will need to make it clear in a legally binding document.

Cost of making a will

The cost of creating a will can range widely, from completely free to thousands of dollars. It depends on your needs and the payment structure of the service you choose.

One free option is creating a holographic will, which is entirely written, dated, and signed in the testator’s own handwriting, which eliminates the need for witnesses. In other words, it is a will that’s been created without the assistance of a lawyer or any other third party. While it may seem like the easiest option, our Reviews Team doesn’t recommend creating a holographic will because they can be prone to fraud or misinterpretation.

Another free option is using a legal service platform that has a free seven-day trial period, like Rocket Lawyer. You’ll just need to answer questions and input credit card information before you can download and print. You’ll only be charged if you forget to cancel the trial before it ends.

If you’re looking for an online will maker that offers high end customer support along the way, most basic will packages start at $39.95. More comprehensive packages are available for $100–$300, and complex online estate planning services can cost up to $5,000. Top tiers of online services often come with access to attorney assistance. Attorney assistance means a network of attorneys will answer any questions you have regarding your estate plan via scheduling phone calls through the online service platform.

The cost of hiring an attorney to create a will for you depends on several factors:

Attorney fees can often be hundreds of dollars per hour, which can add up quickly. The amount of time required could be 30 minutes for a simple POA, or it could take days, weeks, or months for a large estate planning package. A flat fee will let you know what to expect as far as payment, but not necessarily time. Most attorneys offer a free, brief consultation where you can ask about payment arrangements.

Legal requirements to make a will

Creating a valid will requires you to meet three general legal conditions: (requirements may vary slightly from state to state):

Estate planning terms to know

As you learn how to write a will without a lawyer, it may be helpful to know what certain legal terms mean:

Bottom line

Estate planning brings you peace of mind, but it’s about more than that—it gives your loved ones guidance on how to move forward when you’re gone. This is why everyone can benefit from estate planning.

Having multiple estate planning documents, like a will, living will, and POA is ideal, but not always necessary. At the very least, having a valid will is much better than no estate plan at all.

Unless you have a very large estate or complex planning needs, an online estate planning service can get you started with the most important estate planning documents, and even attorney assistance for an additional cost. While attorneys can sometimes charge by the hour, which adds up quickly, online services typically charge a reasonable flat fee.

Frequently asked questions

A typical will details what happens to your estate when you pass away. A living will gives instructions for what happens when you’re still alive but lacks the capacity to give directions, mostly in medical situations. Living wills detail whether the subject of the will prefers to be given lifesaving treatments in the event of a serious health crisis or whether they want to donate organs upon their death. These are also known as advance directives. In that situation, you would also grant someone power of attorney, meaning they have the authority to make legal and financial decisions for you if you’re unable to.

Don’t confuse a living will with a living trust, which simply refers to putting ownership of property in another party’s hands while you’re still alive. Beneficiaries of the trust still only inherit when you pass away.

Common mistakes when making a will include not executing the will correctly, not updating a will at the time of life changes, forgetting important assets, and forgetting beneficiaries.

Creating a will can provide priceless peace of mind for you and your loved ones. Losing a friend or family member is hard enough without having to make tough estate decisions in the aftermath of a death. Creating a solid will with clear instructions can show your loved ones you care about them and want to take the burden of distributing your estate off their shoulders.

Yes, a DIY will is still a valid will, as long as it meets the legal requirements in your state. For example, if you write your will by hand (known as a “holographic” will), you should still have two witnesses—who saw you sign the will and don’t stand to inherit anything from you—sign it. It is still possible the court will honor your will without the signatures, but it’s better to be safe and meet the legal requirements for a valid will.

Yes, it is possible to create a will for free, but exercise caution. Paid services are more likely to be reputable and contain the correct legal language, so your will holds up in the probate process. If you feel comfortable doing a little research yourself, visit your state’s website to see if it provides free state-specific will templates at no cost.

Have questions about this review? Email us at


  1. Gallup, Inc. How Many Americans Have a Will? June 23, 2021. Found on the internet at
  2. Community Property Laws Generally. Found on the internet at
  3. World Population Review. Filial Responsibility Laws by State. Found on the internet at
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Laura Jackson Author
Laura Jackson is a lawyer who, after several years in private practice, left to fulfill her dream of serving a larger audience through freelance writing. She graduated from Emory University School of Law and is an active member of the Georgia Bar Association. She is passionate about making complex legal topics understandable for all audiences.
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Joe Kellman Author
Joe Kellman is a writer and lawyer whose goal is to help others navigate common legal processes with confidence. He has written and edited legal content on topics such as LLC formation, business law, tax law, family law, divorce law, estate planning, and asset protection.
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