ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

How to Prepare a Successful Will

Updated on August 17, 2014

Do you have a will

See results

Importance of a Will

A will is a legal declaration by a person (a Testator) outlining how he or she wants property distributed at death and identifying an executor who will manage such distribution. Wills are governed by State Laws. A will prevents complications that can arise regarding distribution of assets after death. Everyone should have a will.

A will does not have to be complex. A will can be single paged and very simple depending on the types of assets or property owned by the testator. Wills written by individuals with numerous assets and young children may be more complex. Some wills may entail the appointment of trustees and establishments of trusts for young children.

A testator can ensure that many persons are protected under a will or he or she can disinherit children who the testator does not think are entitled to proceeds under the will.

The testator may also provide for his or her pets in his will and determine how specific assets should be distributed. For example, Leona Helmsley (the Queen of Mean), the famous wife of the Harry Helmsley (Real Estate Tycoon and Businessman) was able to set aside large amount of monies under her will to care for her beloved pets.

A successful will should be written in a way to provide for after born children. If you die without leaving a will, a court will usually appoint an administrator for distribution of your assets. The court usually appoints administrators in the following order of priority; a surviving spouse, your children, grandchildren if any, your mother or father followed by any other person entitled to distribution under the will. To prevent the court from making this decision for you it is best to make a will.

The most common type of will is the written will. This type of will is accepted in all states of the Union.

A Validly Executed Will Meet these Requirements:
Publication of the Will
Signature of Testator
Signature in Presence of Two Witness
Two Witnesses Attesting
Testator Signed at End of Will

Requirements of a Validly Executed Will

A validly written will has the following legal requirements:

  1. The testator must sign his or her will. The signature does not have to be legible. The testator may make any mark that identifies him or her.
  2. A testator must sign his or her will in the presence of each witness. The witnesses must be of legal age and ideally should not be beneficiaries under the will. Depending on your State, witnesses who stand to inherit under the will may not be entitled to an inheritance if they also act as witnesses. Other beneficiaries may challenge distributions to witnesses who are entitled to distributions under the will. A frequent contention when making these challenges is that the witness exerted undue influence on the testator. One witness does not necessarily have to sign in the presence of another. If the testator signs in the presence of one witness first, he must later acknowledge his signature in the presence of the other witness.
  3. The testator must sign his name at the end of the will. Words following the testator’s signature are usually ignored. If this is not done the will may be invalidated, especially if items written after the signature are deemed to be so material and important.
  4. The will must be published. This occurs when the testator advises the witnesses that they are witnessing a will.
  5. There must be two attesting witnesses. The witnesses do not need to sign the will in the presence of each other.
  6. In some States the execution ceremony of the will must be completed within 30 days.

The will execution ceremony is the time period during which all the legal requirements for preparing a will need to be completed.

Holographic Will

A Holographic will is a will that is handwritten by a testator and signed but is not witnessed by others. Holographic wills are written in emergency situations. They are often written by sailors at sea or by soldiers. Some States do not recognize holographic wills.

In order for a Holographic will to be recognized, evidence must be presented that shows that the testator actually created the will, that the testator had the mental capacity to create the will at the time that the will was created. Holographic wills will also be deemed valid if evidence shows that the testator created the will with the intention to distribute property to others.

If you have not yet created a will and find yourself in an accident where death is imminent, you may consider preparing a Holographic will as a last resort.

Anna Nicole Smith did not amend her Will to provide for her after born Child Daniel Lynn
Anna Nicole Smith did not amend her Will to provide for her after born Child Daniel Lynn | Source

A Codicil

A codicil is an amendment to a will. People may amend their will for various reasons. You may amend your will to add a beneficiary or to designate a specific person to receive a bequest. The codicil will be accepted as an amendment if it does not appear to be a revocation of the prior will. If the codicil appears to supersede or revoke the prior will then the first will may be invalidated. The same formalities used to prepare the prior will should also be used to prepare the codicil. That includes the two witnesses, the publications and signatures.

A successful will should be written in a way to provide for after born children. If your prior will did not include an after born child you may amend your will to include the child. Some people may recall the case of famous celebrity Anna Nicole Smith who failed to write an inclusive will and failed to prepare a codicil. Anna Nicole Smith died leaving all her property to her first child who predeceased her.

Important Items to Address in your Will

The important items that you should address in your will are as follows:

  1. You must declare that you have the capacity to dispose of your property.
  2. You should specify your demographic information. This is necessary because there may be someone else with the same name.
  3. You should name the executor and alternative executor. The executor is a very important person who will be charged with administering the estate. The executor ensures that all beneficiaries are contacted and that taxes are paid. Executor are compensated for their work. The executor does not have to be an attorney. However, attorneys are more experienced in this area.
  4. If young children are involved, then the will must address custody and guardianship .
  5. The will must address taxes and debts against the estate.
  6. The will must address real estate.
  7. The will must address assets, personal property and specific gifts to named individuals
  8. Address any final wishes.

A successfully written will tailors certain of the aforementioned items to the needs of the Testator.

Leona Helmsley left Millions of Dollars in her Will to care for her Dogs.
Leona Helmsley left Millions of Dollars in her Will to care for her Dogs. | Source

Considerations Prior to Drafting A Will

Prior to drafting a will you should take a few days to think about the following:

  1. What are my assets? For example; Land, Vacation homes, Time shares, Bank Accounts, Art work, Jewelry, Cars, Stocks, Bonds, Antique furniture, Family pictures, Farm animals, Fur coats?
  2. Where are my assets located? For example; property addresses, items loaned to others, things in storage facilities, banks account numbers.
  3. What types of debts do I have? Lien holders on certain properties, taxes owed, business loans, bank loans, mortgages.
  4. Will my pets be properly cared for after I die?
  5. How do I want to dispose of specific assets? Do you want to leave assets to special people in your life who are not related to you? For example, a personal assistant, a housekeeper, a friend or neighbor.
  6. Who do I want to be the executor? Who do I trust to follow through? Who is reliable? Is an outsider more reliable than a family member?
  7. Who do I want to be the substitute executor? Will this person accept the challenge?
  8. Who do I want to benefit from my will? Do I want all my children and grandchildren to benefit?
  9. Remember that you can't usually disinherit your spouse. State laws usually provide a specific amount called an elective share that a spouse is entitled to under a will.
  10. Who do I want to disinherit? For example you have not seen your adopted son in 30 years, he has never called and he tried to kill you prior to disappearing.
  11. Do I want to leave anything to Charity? Any favorite causes supported over the years?
  12. I am still young, do I plan to have more children?
  13. Who do I want to be the guardians of my children who are under legal age? Who do I really trust to be guardians of my children?
  14. Do I want my children to have access to certain funds prior to becoming of age?

Sample Will




I, Jane Doe, residing at 148 Manning Avenue, West Orange, New Jersey 07052, County of Essex, being of sound mind and memory, do hereby make, publish and declare this to be my last Will and Testament, hereby revoking all Wills and Codicils and other Testamentary writings previously made by me.

I declare that at the date of this will I am 80 years old with three Adult daughters.


A. I hereby appoint Sarah Miller Executrix of this my Last Will and Testament. In the event that Sarah does not survive me or fails or cease to serve as Executrix, then I nominate and appoint Vicky Doe Executrix as her successor.

The executrix acting under this will shall have all the powers that are conferred under New Jersey State Law. I instruct that my executrix shall not be required to post a bond or a surety in the State of New Jersey or any other State. If a bond is so required, then the named executrix under my will shall not be responsible to meet the obligation of any surety.


I direct that all expenses related to my illness, support, death, funeral expenses and estate administration be paid from my residuary estate as soon after my death as possible. I also direct all mortgages or encumbered property that I own at death be passed subject to the mortgages and not paid by the residuary estate.


I direct that all inheritance, succession and other duties (together with interest and penalties thereon, ) or taxes that are levied or assessed by reason of my death upon any property that consists of my gross estate be paid from my residuary estate without any contribution by distributes under the will. This includes property over which I have powers of appointment and all property that pass by my will.


I give and bequeath all of the proceeds, if any, deriving from my lawsuit against Millburn Hospital, for an incident that occurred on January, 2012, to my Niece Sarah Miller. If Sarah Miller shall not survive me then to my children in equal shares. The share of any child who does not survive me should be given to her children equally. If any child of mine who does not survive me has no children then her share equally to my other children. If neither Sarah Miller, my children or grandchildren survive me then the proceeds under this article shall be given to the New Jersey Cancer Society.


I give and bequest my three Claude Monet paintings hanging above my fireplace or wherever located at death, to be given to my Sister Doreen Prince. If Doreen Prince does not survive me then the paintings shall go to the New Jersey Cancer Society.


All the rest, residue and remainder of my estate, of every nature and description both real property and mixed, where ever situated, and any property over which I may have a previously unexercised power of appointment, I bequeath to all my children in equal shares. If any child shall predecease me then to her children equally. If any child who predeceases me has no children then to my other children in equal shares. If none of my children and grandchildren survives me then all of said rest, residue and remainder of my estate as described in this Article shall go to my Niece Sarah Miller. If neither my children, grandchildren nor Sarah Miller shall survive me, then all of said rest, residue and remainder of my estate as herein described in this Article shall be given to the New Jersey Cancer Society.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I subscribe my name, this 9th day of February, Two Thousand and fourteen, at West Orange, New Jersey.



The foregoing will, consisting of this page and preceding typewritten pages, was signed, sealed, published and declared by the above-named Testatrix as her Last Will and Testament, in the presence of us, who in her presence and at her request and in her presence and the presence of each other have hereunto subscribed our names as witnesses, this 9th day of February Two Thousand and Fourteen.

__________________ ________________________

Witness Address

____________________ ________________________

Witness Address


What to Do after the Will is Written

Depending on the State that you live in you may take an extra step. You may take the will to a notary public and sign an affidavit acknowledging your signature in that notary’s presence. Your two witnesses should also sign the affidavit acknowledging their signatures in the presence of the notary and certifying that all formalities of will preparation had been complied with. While this step is unnecessary in most states, it is a requirement in some. This will prevent having to prove that you actually signed the will during probate or if the will is contested. Probate is the legal process for administration of the will and a determination as to whether the will is valid or invalid. During contest or challenge of a will, the two witnesses to your will are required to testify that they witnessed you signing the will. A notarized statement will prevent this extra step and allows the will to be considered “self proving.”

After completion of your will, you should file it away in a safe fireproof place. You should make several copies and give one to your executor or attorney. You may store a copy in a safety deposit box. A trusted person should know how to gain access to your safety deposit box.

Everyone should have a will. A will does not have to be complex or detailed as long as the legal requirements are met. A will gives you a final say at death as to how you want your assets to be distributed. Do not create a burden on others in having them decide how you want your property and other assets disposed of. Set some time aside and prepare your will as soon as possible.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • cecileportilla profile imageAUTHOR

      Cecile Portilla 

      4 years ago from West Orange, New Jersey

      Thank for your comment tobusiness. Many people procrastinate when it comes to will preparation. I hope my hub is a useful reminder to others as well!

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 

      4 years ago from Lincolnshire, U.K

      This is very useful information and a timely reminder for me. Voting up all the way and sharing.

    • cecileportilla profile imageAUTHOR

      Cecile Portilla 

      4 years ago from West Orange, New Jersey

      I am so happy that my hub was helpful to you. I really hope that things work out well regarding the issue that you are currently involved with. Being an executor can become burdensome when there are trusts involved and lack of cooperation from other beneficiaries. Good luck!

    • sasanka7 profile image


      4 years ago from Calcutta, India

      Very useful and important hub. Voted up. I am an executor of a Will and also a Trustee but unfortunately the Probate was not granted for suspicious circumstances. Due to noncooperation of other Trustees (one of them is Testator's near relative) the Trust has about to be null and void. Both the cases are till pending to honb'le High Court and lower court.There remain so many factors like proper presentation, proper argument by Advocate, proper evidence, proper witness and finally, maintaining the proper procedure as mentioned in your hub can ensure the enactment of a Will or justice. Although some differences are there in Indian and US law yet the basic requirements of a Will are same. In India there remain hardly a chance to deploy an Administrator by the Govt. if someone dies intestate. Thanks for sharing.

    • cecileportilla profile imageAUTHOR

      Cecile Portilla 

      4 years ago from West Orange, New Jersey

      A will is very important. Everyone should have one! Thanks for stopping by DDE.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Well advised tips on a Will it is so important to go about it the proper way.

    • cecileportilla profile imageAUTHOR

      Cecile Portilla 

      4 years ago from West Orange, New Jersey

      Thanks for stopping by my hub Dis-cover. Really appreciate the comment!

    • dis-cover profile image

      Nikolic Predrag 

      4 years ago from Serbia, Belgrade

      Cecile, as all your previous articles, very detailed and informative. Great job!

    • cecileportilla profile imageAUTHOR

      Cecile Portilla 

      4 years ago from West Orange, New Jersey

      Thank you ubanichijioke. Appreciate the feedback!

    • ubanichijioke profile image

      Alexander Thandi Ubani 

      4 years ago from Lagos

      Very informative and useful. It keeps one abreast with the rules of the game. Now, i know the importance and the need to have a will written...

      good job!


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)