A simple will is a legal document that you use to express how you want your property to be passed on after your death. Nearly half of Americans over age 55 do not have a will. There are many reasons for this.
One reason is that people think wills are too complicated and that they must hire an attorney to get one. But wills can be simple. You can have a simple will that you write yourself. This article will explain how it works.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What’s a Simple Will?
- What Situations are Simple Wills Good and Bad For?
- How Do You Make a Simple Will Legal?
- How Do You Write a Simple Will?
What’s a Simple Will?
A simple will is a legal document that’s filed in court after you die. It tells the court what you would like to have done with your property. You may want a close relative, like a spouse or child, to have your house, or for a friend to have something of yours to remember you by.
A simple will is a way that you can inform your family and friends of what you want to do with your property and make it legally binding. If anyone disagrees with what you said you want to have done with your property, it will not matter. Because you had a will, the court will issue an order to make sure that your property is distributed the way you want.
If you do not have a will when you die, you are said to have died “intestate.” This means that you did not create a legal way for your family and friends to divide your property when you die. Because the state does not want your family and friends fighting over your property or leaving your property go to waste, the state will decide what to do with your property.
To decide this, it will rely on a body of law called the “probate” rules. These are the rules that the “probate” court will use to distribute your property when you did not leave a will.
Under the probate rules, if you die without a will, the state will give your property to your closest relatives who are alive when you die. This is not always what people want. Sometimes your closest living relatives are people who hardly even know you or perhaps have treated you poorly during your life. If you don't want the court to give your property to your closest living relatives after you die, then you need to have a will. There is no reason not to have a will because they are so simple to write.
Even though simple wills are easy to write, a simple will is not for everyone. Before you follow the steps below and create a will, you should consider whether a simple will is right for you.
What Situations are Simple Wills Good and Bad for?
For most people, a simple will is all that you need to transfer your property when you die. However, some people require a more complex will to address certain issues that the average person usually does not have to worry about.
Here are the situations for which simple wills are good and bad. You should decide whether a simple will is right for you based on your individual circumstances.
What situations are simple wills good for?
A simple will is just as legally binding as any complex will if you follow the rules to make it legal (how to make your will legal is explained below). The only difference between a simple will and a complex will is what is in it.
A simple will is probably right for you if you answer “Yes” to all of the following questions:
- Are you 55 or younger?
- Are you in good health?
- Do you have no minor children (either no children or children who are 18 years old or older and who have no special needs)?
- Do you, individually, have less than $11.58 million to leave for your family? (This means you do not have to pay federal estate and gift taxes.)
- If you are married, do you and your spouse combined have less than $23.16 million to leave for your family? (This means you do not have to pay federal estate and gift taxes.)
- Do you have a business interest you’re leaving for your family?
If you answered “Yes” to all of these questions, then a simple will is likely to be sufficient for all that you probably will need to accomplish in a will.
A simple will may be an appropriate option for passing on your property at death if you’re:
- Under 55
- In good health
- Have no minor children or children with special needs
- Have an individual estate worth less than $11.58 million and a marital estate worth less than $ 23.16 million
- Have no business interests
What situations are simple wills bad for?
Even though a simple will might work for you based on the questions above, a simple will is probably not the best option for you if you answer “Yes” to any of the following questions:
- Are you over 55?
- Are you in poor health or do you have any serious health conditions?
- Do you have minor children (under 18 years old) or children with special needs?
- Do you have an individual estate worth at least $11.58 million? (You may have to pay federal estate and gift taxes.)
- If you are married, do you and your spouse, combined, have at least $23.16 million to leave for your family? (You may have to pay federal estate and gift taxes.)
- Do you have a business interest that you’re leaving for your family?
You’re likely to have issues that are more complicated than just who you want to leave your property to. This is not to say that a simple will would not suffice for you. However, these issues typically require some detailed advice from an attorney to make sure they are handled properly when you die.
You may want to consider speaking to an estate lawyer before you decide to use a simple will if you’re:
- Over 55
- In poor health or have a serious health condition
- Have minor children or children with special needs
- Have an individual estate worth at least $11.58 million
- Have a marital estate worth at least $ 23.16 million
- Have any business interests that you are leaving to someone
How Do You Make a Simple Will Legal?
Every state has specific rules for the legality of wills in that state. It does not matter if your will is simple or complex; every will must follow the same rules to be legal. Here are the things that most wills in every state must have to be legal:
- The person signing the will must be competent (at least 18 years old and of sound mind).
- It must be in writing (some states allow oral wills).
- It must be dated (some special wills do not require a date).
- It must be signed (each state may have specific rules for how, where, or when to sign).
- It must be witnessed (state rules differ on the number of witnesses required — usually two).
- The person signing must intend for the document to serve as their last will and testament.
These are the general rules that apply to almost every will in every state. However, because the rules in each state (called “formalities”) can be so specific, it’s important that you are familiar with the rules in your state before making a simple will.
How Do You Write a Simple Will?
There are only two ways to write a simple will without a lawyer.
Use an online will service. There are many online will services that provide you with a simple will form and simple instructions for filling it out. It is supposed to be designed to satisfy all the formalities of a will in your particular state.
You can choose your state on the website and print out a form that asks some very basic questions about your property and who you want to leave things to. You simply fill in the blanks where appropriate. You still have to have witnesses witness your signature to complete the will, but when you do, it will be just as legal as any will drafted by a lawyer, provided it satisfies all the formalities in your state.
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Use a “do-it-yourself” will. A “do-it-yourself” will is exactly what its name suggests — it’s a will that you complete yourself. If you take a standard piece of paper and a permanent writing instrument (a pen), you can draft a simple will that is as legally binding as any lawyer’s. As with any will, you only have to make sure you follow all the formalities in your state.
A Will Can Be Simple
If you have been delaying writing your will because you thought it would be too complicated without a lawyer, then grab a pen and paper! If writing a simple will is appropriate for you, you can write a simple will in less than an hour and you don’t even need an attorney. You can either print out a form from an online service and fill in the appropriate information or you can do it yourself.
Either option is simple and both wills are legal. If a simple will is right for you, there’s no reason you cannot have a valid legal will right away.