Examples of Legal Wills

By Stephanie Kurose, J.D.

Examples of Legal Wills

By Stephanie Kurose, J.D.

A will is a useful estate planning tool that allows a person to leave their personal belongings and other assets to certain people when they die. There are many different reasons for a person to write one. Those reasons affect what type of will they ultimately create. Several options exist, and all can help you plan for what happens to your estate and take care of your loved ones after you die.

Young woman at table across from older couple looking at documents

Wills and Trusts

You can connect some wills to a trust, which is another useful estate planning tool. A person who drafts one must then transfer ownership of any desired assets and name a trustee to manage it on their behalf. This third party is required to act on behalf of the named beneficiaries as well. Sometimes, the person who creates it, known as the trustor, also simultaneously creates a pour-over will. This type of document addresses any assets that they neglected to transfer into the trust and moves the residue of the estate upon their death.

Another type of will connected to a trust is a testamentary document. This ultimately leads to the creation of one or more trusts when the testator dies and moves their assets into these accounts. Both pour-over and testamentary documents must still go through the probate process before the distribution of any assets.

The practical matter is that not everyone plans ahead before they die. Those who have not drafted one, but find themselves in a situation where death is imminent, have a couple different legal options. The laws of most states recognize holographic ones, which are written entirely in the testator's own handwriting. Depending on the state, such documents may or may not require witnesses to be valid. A few states also accept oral wills, but there are many restrictions for what a state accepts as legal.

Precautionary and Joint Wills

If a person foresees something happening in the future that could complicate the distribution of their estate, they can create a precautionary will. For example, if the testator believes an heir or beneficiary might contest the document's validity, they can include an in terrorem clause. This should state that, if an heir or beneficiary files a formal challenge, they lose everything they would have inherited. Conditional wills render the provisions void if the testator dies a suspicious death. They also prevent a person's assets from transferring to someone who might be responsible their death.

A married couple or domestic partners can create a joint document that merges their individual wills together rather than having two separate ones. In this type of document, each spouse or partner leaves their share of assets to the surviving person. This is especially useful if the couple doesn't have children.

There are a number of different types of wills that you can create depending on your individual needs, desires, or situation. Consider your options, and determine which type of document is the most appropriate for you. You'll want to ensure that your family and loved ones are taken care of financially when you die.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.