How Many Different Types of Legal Wills Exist?

By A.L. Kennedy

A will leaves instructions for handling someone's estate when she dies. However, the way these instructions are left can vary, meaning that many different types of wills exist.Some types of wills can be used by anyone, others are restricted to very specific situations and are not valid outside these situations while some are recognized in certain states but not others. According to the American Bar Association, there are approximately five different types of legal wills.

A will leaves instructions for handling someone's estate when she dies. However, the way these instructions are left can vary, meaning that many different types of wills exist.Some types of wills can be used by anyone, others are restricted to very specific situations and are not valid outside these situations while some are recognized in certain states but not others. According to the American Bar Association, there are approximately five different types of legal wills.

Simple Wills

The American Bar Association describes a simple will as a document that meets the minimum legal requirements for a will, including signature and witnesses, but that contains only a few, straightforward instructions. A simple will is used to bequeath a few assets to one or just a few individuals. One of the most famous simple wills was that of Maryland's first Governor Leonard Calvert, whose will instructed his executor to "take all and pay all."

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Wills With Trusts

A testamentary trust will and a pour-over will are both used when the assets of an estate are to be transferred to a trust when you die, according to the American Bar Association. The only difference between the two deals with when the trust is created. A pour-over trust will transfers property into a trust you created before your death. A testamentary trust will both creates the trust and transfers all your property into it at the same moment after your death.

Holographic WIlls

A holographic or olographic will is a will written entirely in the testator's own handwriting. The American Bar Association cautions that not all states recognize holographic wills. Most states that do recognize a holographic will require that the testator's name, signature and "material portions" of the will be in the testator's handwriting. One benefit of a holographic will, in the states that accept it, is that the will is not required to be witnessed.

Nuncupative Wills

Most wills must be written down in order to be valid. A nuncupative, or oral will, is valid only in a handful of U.S. states, and then only under specific circumstances. In the states that recognize oral wills, the will is only valid if the testator makes it in extreme circumstances such as immediately before death. Most of the states accepting them allow nuncupative wills to distribute only a small amount of property. A nuncupative will must be written down by the witnesses to it within a short time after the testator's death, according to the USLegal Dictionary.

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How Many Different Types of Wills Are There?

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Is a Written Will a Legal Document?

A will is a legal document because it grants rights to the will's executor and beneficiaries. However, a will is only a legally valid instrument if it meets criteria as defined by state law. A will that fails to adhere to such criteria may be deemed worthless in a state court. Therefore, when preparing your will, it is essential to familiarize yourself with the laws of your state or have an experienced attorney draft the document.

List of the Different Types of Wills

Wills must meet certain standards to be valid. The person making the will, known as the testator, must be at least 18 years old and of sound mind. The testator must appoint an executor, provide for the distribution of his property after death, and sign and date the will in the presence of witnesses. Within these and certain other limitations, however, you can draft a number of different types of wills. Seek the help of an attorney when selecting which type of will is most appropriate for you. Also, keep in mind that state laws for the execution of each type of will vary and should be checked thoroughly.

Are Notarized Wills Legal?

In all 50 U.S. states, at least two witnesses are required to make a will valid, according to MedLawPlus. However, only Louisiana requires a will to be notarized in addition to being signed by two witnesses. Although a notary may sign a will as a witness in most other states, the fact of notarization is not enough to make a will valid, according to FindLaw.

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