If you or a loved one are entering into hospice care without a written legal will, you may be wondering: “How do I get started?” and “How do I make sure I do this the right way?”

Those are great questions. As you probably know, if a family member passes away without a legal will, the surviving family must face not only their grief, but the headache (and heartache) of moving the estate through probate court.

That is why creating a legal will is one of the most vital areas of estate planning. A legal will ensures that your property and possessions will be divided and distributed according to your wishes. When someone dies without a legal will, that person is said to have died “intestate,” and the person’s property and assets will be subject to distribution by the state of residence. And with the state making the decisions, your family may not receive everything you want them to receive.

Folded legal will sitting on table near coffee mug, pen, and eyeglasses


Intestacy can be the cause of unpleasant arguments among family members. If your final wishes for your property aren’t signed, witnessed, and documented while you are in a clear state of mind, then your loved ones will be left with the headache of trying to interpret your wishes in a way that doesn’t cause significant conflict.

Developing a Plan

To avoid all the legal red tape, take some time now to write your legal will, so that your wishes are legally valid and clearly understood. Requirements for a will’s legality vary from state to state, so you may have to do some research on specific requirements in your state or simply speak to an attorney to make sure your legal will is valid.

Here’s how to avoid some common pitfalls of writing a will:

1. Don’t wait

To ensure its legality, your will must be signed when you are of sound mind. Many people think that they have plenty of time to get around to writing a will, but if your state of health calls into question your mental clarity, then your will could be declared invalid. Depending on the severity of your illness, it’s better to complete your legal will sooner rather than later.

2. Select your witnesses

Your will should be written in the presence of witnesses. At least two witnesses will need to sign it, but some states will not accept less than three. Make sure that the witnesses are disinterested parties, people who are not beneficiaries and have no stake in the proceedings.

Middle-aged husband and wife sitting at table, looking at computer, reading the screen

3. Choose an executor

Be sure to assign an executor of the will to fulfill the duty of settling the estate. This is the person who will represent your wishes after your death. People often appoint a spouse or close friend as an executor. Remember, if you don’t select an executor, an administrator of the estate will be chosen for you. And unfortunately, there is no way to guarantee that the person selected will know how to follow your wishes. That’s why you should make sure to choose your own executor ahead of time.

4. Provide for dependents (including pets)

If you are responsible for the care of minors, it is important to outline your wishes for their continued care. Make sure to assign a guardian you trust to take on their care.

5. Communicate clearly

Organize your thoughts clearly. Identify your heirs and give instructions that are free of ambiguity. Read back over the material and make sure that there is an unmistakable connection between person and property, gift and recipient.

Man looking at document, pen poised to sign the bottom

6. Have an attorney review your will

Estate planning attorneys have a lot of experience with what types of wills will hold up in court and which ones will not. If you are using an online service or writing the will yourself, have an estate planning attorney review the will, just to be on the safe side.

State Law Requirements

These general principles will help you avoid some of the potential pitfalls of will-writing. However, it is essential that you also educate yourself on your specific state’s laws for creating a will. Alternatively, you can work closely with a knowledgeable attorney to make sure that your will is written within the parameters of state law.

By creating a legally sound will, you can relieve your family of unnecessary stress and make your wishes known. Ensuring that your estate is distributed according to your preferences will bring peace of mind to you and your loved ones.

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