Everyone should have a will, even if they don’t have a lot of money or property to pass on. Writing a will can make life a lot easier for your loved ones and heirs because it clearly lays out what should happen to everything you leave behind. Most people can also create a simple will either on their own or through a digital service, without the need to meet with an attorney or financial advisor. In a small handful of states, a “simple” will may also refer to a statutory will, which is a fill-in-the-blank type of will that’s available for free to residents of that state.
What is a simple will?
A simple will isn’t a specific type of will, but usually refers to a basic will that covers all your needs while still being easy and inexpensive to create. Simple wills may leave all of your estate (the collection of everything you own) to either one person, like your spouse, or just a few people who are closely related to you, like your children. But even if you have multiple beneficiaries, it’s possible to make a basic will at a low cost.
What’s in a simple will?
All wills must include certain information to be valid. In addition to personal information like your name and address, your will must include testamentary intent: language stating the document is in fact your will. You’ll also need to list the assets you’re passing on, the will beneficiaries who should receive those assets, and an executor who will ensure the terms of your will are carried out after you die. Your state law may also include specific requirements for wills made in your state. Beyond that, you can create a simple will that’s either typed out, handwritten (called a holographic will), or potentially even spoken out loud (called a nuncupative will or oral will).
Learn more about what to include in your will.
Can simple wills avoid probate?
No. All wills must go through probate after the testator’s death, but the probate process is generally faster and easier if they had a simple will. If your goal is to avoid probate, one option is to create a revocable living trust in addition to a basic will.
Learn how to avoid probate.
Statutory will: a type of simple will
In some states, a simple will may refer to a statutory will. Statutory wills are simplified will forms, written directly into a state’s laws, that allow an individual to create a will by filling in blanks on the form.
Very few states offer statutory wills and while they’re simple, they cannot be personalized beyond filling in the blanks. You may only want to use one if your situation is indeed very simple, you’re in an emergency situation and need a will immediately, or you really cannot afford to make a will any other way. (Learn more about how to get a free will.)
States with statutory wills include California, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, and Wisconsin.
Read more: What not to put in your will.
Who can use a simple will?
Whether or not you can create a simple will depends on your situation. If you don’t have a lot to pass on or if you plan to leave everything to a few individuals, like your spouse or children, then a simple will may work well for you. However, it’s always important to make sure your will covers everything. Creating a short and straightforward will isn’t useful if you forget to include an asset or beneficiary.
If you have minor children and need to name a beneficiary, you can still create a simple will that names who you want to serve as guardian for your children.
Who shouldn’t use a simple will
While you can create any type of will you want, there are certain situations where you may need a more complex will that requires the help of an estate planning lawyer:
You own all or some of a business.
You own assets in multiple states or countries.
You have a wealthy estate that may have to pay estate tax.
You have a blended family and want to leave an inheritance to a stepchild, half-sibling, or children from a previous marriage.
You want to disinherit immediate family members.
You think someone will contest your will in an attempt to receive a larger inheritance.
You also have a trust.
You need to choose a guardian for a child with special needs or other dependents. While a simple will can name a guardian for your children, certain dependents may require additional financial planning.
Here are more situations when you should hire an estate lawyer.