What Is A Simple Will? – Forbes Advisor


Published: Jan 16, 2024, 7:09am

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A simple will is an estate planning tool used to provide basic instructions about critical issues after a death. You can make one on your own or with the help of an estate planning attorney. First, however, you need to determine if using this is right for you. This guide will help.

What Is a Simple Will?

A simple will or basic will is a document that you create that allows you some degree of control over what happens when you pass away.

You can create a simple will to specify who should inherit money you are leaving behind and who should become the new owner of property that you currently own, such as your home, jewelry, art collection or car.

You can even name a guardian for minor children, your choice for who should take care of your kids if you pass away before they reach adulthood. You can also provide instructions for things like who should take care of your pets after you’re gone.

Is a Basic Will Right for You?

There are many estate planning tools that allow you to accomplish different objectives, such as allowing a disabled loved one to inherit without losing their Medicaid or other means-tested government benefits. There are also tools that give you a great deal of control over when and how heirs receive money and property you have left to them.

If you do not need to take advantage of these advanced tools, however, a basic will may be the right tool for your estate planning. If your needs are limited to distributing money and property as well as making some basic wishes known, a basic will can accomplish these goals.

However, you want to be sure that you aren’t missing any beneficial estate planning methods that could better help you preserve and protect your legacy, minimize taxes and ensure your heirs benefit as much as possible from the gifts you are giving to them. You may wish to talk with an estate planning attorney before you opt for just a simple will.

What Should You Include?

When you make your will, you should provide some key instructions. Typically, you should do the following:

  • Identify yourself and indicate that you are of sound mind and that you understand you are creating a will.
  • Name an executor who will manage estate assets and oversee the probate process including filing paperwork with the court and name an alternate in case they are not available
  • Provide a detailed description of who will inherit your money and property, being as specific as possible
  • Provide instructions on who should become guardian of any minor children and who should take care of any pets you leave behind

You can choose to include other instructions if you want, but these are the crucial issues.

You also must make sure that you sign the document in the presence of two witnesses who also sign their names and confirm they saw you sign. In most states you do not need a notary to witness these signatures, although you may choose to get your forms notarized if you wish to reduce the chances of your will being challenged. It is important to determine what your own state’s requirements are for witnesses and notaries though to be certain you are complying with your state’s requirements.

Do You Still Need to Go Through the Probate Process?

Regardless of how simple you believe your instructions are, your will may still have to go through probate.

Probate is a court process that happens in most cases after a death. Your executor initiates the process by filing the probate paperwork with the court, or a close loved one does so if you did not name an executor. The court will oversee the management and distribution of your estate, ensuring that your wishes are carried out.

Some states have simplified probate processes for smaller estates. If you want to avoid probate and pass assets outside of this public court process, tools such as trusts and joint tenancy can be used, among other estate planning techniques. An attorney can help you determine how best to do this.

Getting Legal Help

You may be able to draft a simple will yourself, especially if you make use of an online template to help you do so. But, even if you can write your own instructions, it’s often best to talk with a lawyer. Your attorney can help you to make sure you’re using the right tools to secure your legacy and can also help you to make a valid will that should be enforced so your wishes can be carried out.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the purpose of a simple will?

The purpose of a simple will is to specify who should inherit money or property when you die. You can use it to name a guardian to raise your minor children. You can also include other instructions such as your preferences for your funeral (but note that in many instances a will is not located or read until after the funeral has already taken place so it may be best to make these wishes known through other means).

Is a trust better than a will?

A trust is different from a will. It can be more complicated and expensive to create. But, depending on the kind of trust, it can provide many benefits a will doesn’t.

You can use trusts to give an inheritance to a disabled person receiving government benefits for the needy without jeopardizing those benefits. A trust could also help you transfer assets outside of probate, keep them safe from creditors and sometimes avoiding estate taxes.

A will can’t do those things. But, you also won’t have to do as much paperwork as you would to create a trust, and you won’t incur the costs of trust creation and ongoing management.

Who does a will leave your possessions to?

You can choose who to leave your possessions to when you make a will. You can leave assets to family members, other loved ones, charities or any organization or individual that you wish.

The ability to control what happens to your property is a major benefit of using estate planning tools. If you don’t have a plan in place, then your assets are distributed based on default laws set by the state. You work hard to acquire your wealth, so you should provide instructions for what happens to it rather than just letting the default rules apply after you’re gone.

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Christy Bieber is a personal finance and legal writer with more than a decade of experience. She earned her JD from UCLA School of Law and was an adjunct professor at the start of her career, teaching paralegal studies and related courses. In addition to writing for the web, she has also designed educational courses and written textbooks focused on a variety of legal subjects.

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