How to Create a Simple Will

A simple will is best used when you don't have an estate that's high enough in value to be subject to estate taxes at the time of your death. It's the most basic type of will that you can write on your own, or with the help of will preparation software or a template. A simple will is a much better alternative to dying intestate, without a will.

Purpose of a Simple Will

If you want to leave your property to a spouse, child, family member or other person, a simple will is probably enough to suit your needs. For example, a husband might draft a simple will to leave equal shares of his possessions to his wife and children. As long as the will doesn't violate inheritance laws, such as leave too little to the wife, then the will is sufficient. It's only in cases where you acquire a large amount of assets and your net worth is substantial, exceeding $5 million, that you may need to consider a more sophisticated will drafted by a lawyer. The reason is that your estate will owe estate taxes. You can also appoint a guardian for children in a simple will.

Who It’s Not Right for

A simple will is not right for everyone. If you anticipate that your will is going to be contested in probate court, you should get one that’s drafted by an attorney and perhaps explore other alternatives for distributing your property. Some of the other options include a living trust and a testamentary trust. It might be better to avoid probate court by leaving funds in joint survivorship accounts or increasing the amount of your life insurance policy, so that the proceeds are not included in the estate.

How to Create a Simple Will

The easiest way to create a simple will is to use will preparation software. You can write a handwritten will, but you have to be sure that wills written by hand are valid according to your state laws. The elements of a valid will are as follows:

  • At least one provision of the will disposes of the assets
  • It’s signed by the number of witnesses required by law
  • The statement “This is my last will and testament” or something similar is included
  • It’s signed and dated in your handwriting, and the signature matches the name in the will

The validity of a simple will is determined by state laws, which can vary from one jurisdiction to the next. You should update your will if necessary when you move to make sure that you still have a valid will that won’t be successfully contested in probate court.

If you don't have a will, a probate court judge will have to determine how best to allocate your assets according to inheritance laws. Your property could end up in the hands of those that you wouldn't want to bequeath it to, but you can avoid that with a simple will.


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