List of the Different Types of Wills

By Christine Funk, J.D.

List of the Different Types of Wills

By Christine Funk, J.D.

There are a number of different types of wills that address differing circumstances. Although each type of testament serves a specific purpose, most types have similar basic requirements. These include:

  • The person writing the document, called the testator, must be at least 18 years old.
  • The testator must be of sound mind.
  • The testator must appoint someone to handle the distribution of their property after their death, called the executor.
  • The testator must sign and date the testament.
  • There are a legally sufficient number of witnesses present who observed the signature of the testator and the other witnesses. (The number of witnesses required varies by state.)

Person signing documents with a fountain pen

Types of Wills

In order to decide which type of will is best for you and your family, you need to be aware of the options. Below are the most common types that you may want to consider before drafting one.

Simple Wills

Simple wills are for people who have simple estates. In other words, you have a small amount of assets and a fairly straightforward approach to designating the beneficiaries of those assets. You can also identify a guardian for minor children in the event that both parents die.

Pour Over Wills

Pour over wills are for people who already have established a trust and put their assets in the trust. When a person who has a revocable living trust dies, their assets in the trust are distributed based on the terms of the trust. However, people may acquire more property after the trust's creation that does not make it into the trust. A pour over will allows for these additional assets to "pour over" into the trust upon the person's death so that they are distributed according to the terms of the trust.

Reciprocal and Joint Wills

Reciprocal wills involve two individuals, often married couples and longtime partners, who write basically identical testaments dictating that the other partner inherit their property upon their death. In the event that both partners die at the same time, the two documents designate another beneficiary. Once one partner dies, the other has the option of changing the designated beneficiary or any other portion of their testament.

By contrast, a joint will leaves all property to the surviving spouse, with a subsequent beneficiary for when the second party dies. However, unlike a reciprocal testament, the second party cannot change this testament after the death of the first party.

Holographic Wills

A holographic will is an unwitnessed document written, signed, and dated by someone in their own handwriting. The majority of states do not recognize this type of testament, and it is generally considered ill-advised as it is subject to challenge in probate court even in states that do recognize them.

Living Wills

Unlike the other testament types discussed, a living will does not deal with the distribution of property upon a person's death. Rather, this legal document spells out a person's wishes in the case of incapacitation. It also designates a decision maker, as no one can spell out all possible potential complications one might encounter while incapacitated.

Writing a Will

A will must meet certain requirements in order to be considered valid. Learning about the common types of testaments can help you decide which one best meets your needs. When considering what type to create, it's important to consider your property, family members, and employment. Writing a will can be challenging, although by creating the correct type of will, you can avoid having to rewrite or edit the will.

Still, when writing a testament, it may be helpful to consult with an experienced attorney to ensure you have made the best decision and that the document complies with state laws. Each state has different laws regarding what is valid, so checking before starting is a crucial step in the process.

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.