How Many Different Types of Wills Exist?
Despite what you might have learned about them from popular culture, wills are an essential part of estate planning for everyone. Even if you don’t own property, houses, fine art, and other signifiers of massive wealth, you still need a last will and testament for your life. However, the type of will you might want to have depends upon several factors, including the size and nature of your estate.
In this article, you’ll learn about:
- The definition of a will
- The four basic types of wills
- Less common types of wills
- Why you need a will
We want to help you understand your options so that you can make the right choice for your situation.
What is a Will?
A fundamental aspect of any end-of-life planning, a will is a legal document that includes your final wishes for what should happen to your possessions, responsibilities, and minor dependents. For some people, this is a rather straightforward document, but the more you own, the more complex a will can become.
Fancy legal terminology calls you the “testator” — the person who creates the will. You typically do so with the guidance of an attorney and/or accountant to ensure that you’re doing the right thing for your estate, legacy, and loved ones.
As part of this process, you will name an “executor,” and this person becomes responsible for ensuring the terms of your will are met. This person can be anyone: your lawyer, a friend, or a family member. Just be sure to get their approval before you name them.
When you finally sign the document, you should have one or two witnesses present, both of whom should not be blood relatives. This is the situation where the “sound mind” concept comes into play because those witnesses confirm that you aren’t signing your will under duress or while being unable to communicate.
Not properly signing the document — as well as creating a version of a will without witnesses or in extreme situations — can result in your estate going into probate. Such a situation means that a judge will have to determine how your estate is divided, which means it could take a long time for the terms of your will to be settled.
The 4 Different Types of Wills
Most legal experts agree upon four primary kinds of wills. Not only do they cover the vast majority of situations, but they receive the widest legal recognition in the U.S. They are:
- Simple wills
- Testamentary trust wills
- Joint wills
- Living wills
Let’s provide some helpful definitions.
As you might imagine, this is the most basic form of will. It is a clear, unambiguous list of how your assets and possessions should be distributed. Your executor will take care of these matters, as this kind of will doesn’t contain any details about the future distribution of assets.
Testamentary Trust Will
This is the form of will most people think about in terms of a will for wealthy people. It’s especially pertinent for situations in which assets are distributed after certain terms are met, typically a time frame or age to be reached by a beneficiary.
Because of the potentially detailed nature of a trust, it’s essential that you work with an attorney and accountant. You want to ensure that the beneficiary (or guardian of minor children) cannot use that trust in ways you didn’t intend.
A joint will is filed by a married couple, and it typically specifies that the partner who survives receives everything in total from the partner who passes. Also known by adjectives like “Mirror,” “Reciprocal,” and “Mutual,” it’s filed jointly because the couple shares everything jointly, which means many married couples treat a joint will as a shared form of a simple will.
However, such wills aren’t always recommended by lawyers because everything has to be done together, including minor changes. Additionally, when one partner has possessions or assets they do not share with the other, the distribution of the assets can be complicated. And any time the details of a will can be disputed by the beneficiaries and descendants, the estate will go into probate.
Think of this sort of will as the directions for your loved ones and doctors during the end of your life. Known in other quarters as the “Advanced Directive,” it tells people what you want to happen as you approach death, including how you want your body to be treated, your funeral, and other end-of-life concerns. You can read more about living wills on our blog.
Do Other Types of Wills Exist?
The legal and estate planning communities occasionally discuss additional types of wills. However, many of them are not legally accepted in many states, so you must consult with your attorney before pursuing one of them for your estate. These wills include:
- Statutory – a fill-in-the-blanks version of a simple will created by certain state governments, making it not available for everyone
- Pour-over – a version of the testamentary will in which all unnamed assets are placed into the testator’s living trust, meaning that the executor and judge have to “pour over” the details in probate
- Holographic wills – any sort of will that is handwritten, but even if it’s signed and witnessed, the estate can still go into probate
- Oral – a spoken will with witnesses, but the lack of a written document means such testimony doesn’t hold up in court as official
- Nuncupative – a version of the oral will, one that occurs when the testator is in mortal danger and unlikely to survive
- Deathbed – another version of the oral will wherein the testator literally shares their thoughts on their deathbed
As you can tell, most of these types of wills are real, but they often result in your estate going into probate because the terms aren’t written, signed, and verified like the primary four.
Why Do I Need a Will?
As we’ve discussed, you need a will to ensure that your possessions go to the people and organizations that you choose upon your passing. You do not need to have a certain amount of money or resources to create a will. You should create a will as soon as you own anything and especially if you have any minor children. Most simple wills contain only that sort of information: Who gets my house, who gets the stuff in my house, and who will be responsible for your children if you die before they reach 18 years of age.
Simply put, your will protects you and your family.
Which Type of Will is Right for Me?
Unfortunately, we cannot make such a recommendation. While we have excellent resources about what goes into preparing a will, we also tell our customers to speak with their attorney and accountant to make specific preparations for their estate.
Once you have your will in place, The Postage is a perfect place to store an electronic version of that document along with other key documents, information, and details listed in your will. You can also store your living will, ethical will, funeral plans, password lists, and other end-of-life plans with ease. Additionally, you have the power to assign delegates who will be responsible for the contents of your digital files.
The Postage serves as your safe and secure online location for the most important documents in your life, especially as you prepare for the future.