This page provides an overview of the different types of wills that may be used in estate planning. This page also provides information on certain types of wills that were used in the past but are not generally used in estate planning today.
Understanding the type of will involved is critical when determining how an estate will be distributed, especially if the estate plan also includes a trust.
See Wills and Trusts.
A will is a legal document that the person making the will, called the testator, makes to indicate how he would like to distribute property he owns at death. A basic will or standard will is used when the testator does not plan to make a living trust or another type of estate planning trust.
A statutory will is a type of simple will available in a few states. Statutory wills are fill in the blanks wills that are only useful for people with very small and uncomplicated estates. The legislatures in some states made these will forms available to ensure widespread access to basic estate planning documents. To learn more about this type of will, go to statutory will forms.
Online Will Forms
If you are looking for an inexpensive way to make a will without an attorney, you may be looking at online will forms, including free state will forms. However, there are several key points to keep in mind about online will forms:1. If you download a will form online, you still need to print the document out on paper and have a hard copy of your will executed according to the will formalities required by the state in which you are domiciled. Failure to comply with these execution requirements may make your will invalid. See
fatal errors in execution.2. A will form you find online may not be valid in the state where you live or it may contain provisions which are not enforceable in your state. To ensure your estate is distributed in the manner you intend, a will should be drafted by an attorney, taking into consideration specific state laws that will apply to your estate. See finding an attorney. Even if you find an online will form that is designed for use in your state, it may not be up to date with current state laws which change frequently.3. If you use an online will form, you will not have the advice of an experienced estate planning attorney that has reviewed the specific circumstances of your estate. An attorney may recommend a different type of estate plan, as well as the use of alternative estate planning strategies, than the one you make on your own.If you cannot afford to pay an attorney to make your will, there are alternatives to using online will forms. To learn about options such as legal aid, pro bono services, and prepaid legal service plans, go to
help with estate planning.
A pour-over will is made by someone that is using a living trust as part of an estate plan. When a living trust is used, all assets of the person making the living trust, called the grantor, are usually transferred to the
living trust. The pour-over will is made to cover any assets of the grantor that are not properly transferred to the living trust during the grantor's lifetime. For example, if the grantor bought a vacation home several years after making a living trust and titled it in his own name rather than the living trust, the vacation home would pass according to the terms of his pour-over will.A pour-over will is made to ensure property is distributed according to the grantorís wishes despite passing outside the living trust. A pour-over will is subject to probate in the same manner as any other will. A pour-over will provides that assets left by will pour over into a trust, however, they must first pass through
Joint Wills and Mutual Wills
A joint will is a will for two people, such as a married couple, set forth in a single document. In a joint will, both testators usually leave everything to the other. After the death of the first testator, the surviving testator may be prevented from amending the joint will, revoking it or making a new will, depending on the provisions of the document and applicable state laws. Mutual wills are similar to joint wills.Using a joint will may result in costly estate litigation, probate delays or financial difficulties for the surviving spouse and other heirs. Always consult a licensed attorney before making any testamentary document, including a joint will or mutual will. For more details on this type of will, refer to our section on
A holographic will is a will written entirely in the testatorís own handwriting. Holographic wills are rarely used today and are not recommended because they often result in will and trust disputes. While many states recognize holographic wills if the requirements of applicable state laws are met, holographic wills are invalid in many states. If you make a holographic will in a state that does not recognize holographic wills as valid, your estate will typically pass as if you died without a will, according to the laws of intestate succession. For more on this type of will, go to Holographic Wills.
You may be interested in holographic wills because you need to make a will right away. An attorney can typically prepare a will very quickly if necessary. However, if you need to make a will today, one option is to use estate planning software. Most programs include the forms you need to execute a will, health care directives, power of attorney, and other estate planning forms. Before you make a will, take a minute to learn more about different types of wills and the clauses you may want to include to carry out your estate planning goals. You would be surprised how different provisions in your will can impact your heirs and your executor. More information is available on our will and trust books page.
Codicil to a Will
After you make a will, you may change your mind about certain bequests, you may need to add or remove beneficiaries or you may need to make other revisions to your will. If you only need to make very simple, clear changes to your will, you can make a codicil and attach it to your will.
A codicil must be properly executed in accordance with the state laws of the jurisdiction where you are domiciled. If you want to change your will for any reason, contact an attorney, regardless of how minor the changes may seem. Read more about making a codicil to a will on our
codicils and amendments page.
Before finalizing your will document, you may want to consult an estate planning lawyer about whether you should make a Self-Proving Will. The laws about this aspect of making a will vary from state to state. For information on including a self-proving affidavit with your will, go to Self-Proving Will Forms.
Which Type of Will Should You Make?
When trying to decide which type of will is right for you, a good starting point is to learn about wills and estate planning laws in the state where you are domiciled. The requirements to make and execute a valid will are governed by state law and vary from state to state. For information about wills and estate planning in your state, go to
To determine which type of will is right for your circumstances and objectives, consult a lawyer.This article was updated on September 6, 2019.
INFORMATION ON THIS SITE, INCLUDING ARTICLES, ESTATE PLANNING FORMS, AND THE ESTATE PLANNING BLOG, DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL, FINANCIAL OR TAX ADVICE. Pennyborn.com is not a law firm and is not a substitute for a lawyer. Your use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship. Information on this site is for educational purposes only and may not be accurate, complete or up to date.
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