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Formal Will: What You Need to Know

There are many different kinds of Wills available for creation, one of them being a "Formal Will." Get a Formal Will definition and learn more here.

Patrick Hicks

Patrick Hicks, @PatrickHicks

Head of Legal, Trust & Will

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Understanding the ins and outs of estate planning is important if you want to have the most effective plan in place to protect yourself and your loved ones. Learning about a Formal Will is key here. Learn everything you need to know about Formal Wills - including what they are, when they’re used, who they’re for, how to create one and more, here in our complete guide to Formal Wills. 

What is a Formal Will?

A Formal Will is a Will that’s typed and signed by you and witnessed by two disinterested parties. For a Formal Will to be legally valid, the signer must also be of sound mind and 18 years of age or older.

If you write your Will yourself, it’s best to be specific about your wishes and clearly state them so there’s no debate or confusion. Many people hire an attorney or use legal forms online to assist with the Formal Will writing process, but there are also online estate planning platform options that are great alternatives to completing your Estate Plan, as well.

There’s no single, one, specific Formal Will definition that fits all individuals and their needs. That’s one of the reasons why attorneys and estate planning experts and digital platforms can be so instrumental. They can help you clearly state your wishes for your property and assets in a manner that’s legally binding. Some states will honor an Informal Will, such as a handwritten document. In most cases, though, it’s best to have an official Formal Will that leaves no doubt about validity, which can lead to family, friends, and others to contest your Will.

What Is In a Formal Will?

Now that we know the Formal Will definition, it’s time to dive into what’s actually in this type of estate planning document. A Formal Will is a document that allows you to state your wishes for your estate and assets after you die. There are specific things you should include in your Formal Will, such as the following:

  • Identify beneficiaries (who will get your property and assets)

  • State your wishes for the distribution of your property - this includes inheritances for your spouse, children, friends, and family and any charitable gifts you want to leave

  • Name an Executor for your estate - this is the person who will be responsible for ensuring your wishes are carried out as stated in your Will

  • Establish guardians for your minor children

  • Forgive debts

When Should a Formal Will Be Used? 

There are four general types of Wills that are all legally valid. Once you understand how each type of Will works, you’ll know which one can best fully articulate your wishes for your property. 

Various types of Formal Wills, however, should be used in specific situations.

  • Simple Will. This is the one most well-known document associated with Wills. It allows you to provide a legal framework for carrying out your wishes for your property once you are deceased.

  • Testamentary Trust. This is a Will that protects some assets for your beneficiaries in the form of a Trust, with a named Trustee to manage it. This type of Will is commonly used by people who have minor children, adult children with some form of incapacitation or aging parents or spouses who require specialized care.

  • Joint Will. These Wills are usually created by married couples and can be legally tricky in the modern era. The surviving spouse is bound to the specifications of the Will even after one party has died. Joint Wills cannot be amended as the needs of the surviving spouse evolve.

  • Living Will. This type of Will is used for a specific purpose - to state your desire for medical treatment, long-term care and life-saving efforts if you become incapacitated and cannot make those decisions on your own. It spares your family from the trauma of making painful choices on your behalf and ensures your wishes are honored.

It is possible to have multiple types of estate planning documents in combination with others, and all can be valid as long as they’re prepared and presented in accordance with the laws in your state.

How Do You Write a Formal Will?

If you have a complex estate to distribute, it may be best to use a trusted platform or attorney to  help you write a Formal Will, rather than going the DIY route. If your estate is straightforward and simple, you might be able to use do-it-yourself software to assist you in writing your Formal Will. However some people still aren’t confident in this option, as the DIY estate planning path can become quite complicated in the end.  

The steps below demonstrate how to make a Formal Will.

  1. Select and name your beneficiaries

  2. Choose an Executor for your Will

  3. Name guardians for your children

  4. Identify all your assets and property

  5. Specify who gets what

  6. Sign your Will properly (with witnesses)

  7. Store your Will in a safe place

Additionally, it’s important to consider the language in the Will. If you’re concerned about your grown children or other beneficiaries having any hard feelings about a perceived slight, you can always include a letter to your loved ones explaining some of your decisions. This is also a good opportunity to say goodbye to your friends and family and more fully explain certain bequeathments. 

Don’t forget to review your Will periodically to make sure new property is identified and covered in the Will and that your wishes for distribution remain the same. Any time you have a major life event (a birth, death, marriage, divorce, job change, or major move), it’s time to review and update your Will. A good rule of thumb is to review all your estate planning documents every 3 - 5 years if you don’t have any major life events in that time period. 

Do You Need a Formal Will?

A Formal Will is not only about sharing your wishes for your property (and care in the case of a Living Will). It’s also about preventing confusion, anger and mistrust among family members as your assets are divided between them. If you have young children or loved ones who require specialized care, your Estate Plan can ensure they get the care they need. It also allows you to rest easier knowing their needs are being met by people who love them.

Fortunately, it’s easier than ever, thanks to the power of modern technology and trusted online estate planning platforms, to create a Formal Will so that the people you leave behind know exactly what your wishes are.

Estate planning can seem like it’s overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Setting up a rock-solid Estate Plan is easy, affordable and quick, thanks to Trust & Will’s online estate planning services.  

Is there a question here we didn’t answer? Reach out to us today or Chat with a live member support representative!

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