Types of Wills: A Guide

By Katherine at Legal Language
Posted on 05/05/2010
In Legal Resources



When people reach adulthood and accumulate some assets, thoughts turn to creating a will. However, there are many different types of wills that an individual can create.

A will is a legal document that names people to manage your estate and declares who will receive your belongings after your death. Different types of wills can vary in length from a single page to a large document consisting of many pages.

Types of Wills

While creating a will sounds simple enough, the truth is that there are many different ways to go about it, and therefore many types of wills.

Here are several types of wills that are used today:

  • Simple will: This contains easy instructions for distribution of your assets.
  • Testamentary trust will: This establishes one or more trusts for the distribution of your assets.
  • Pourover will: This type of will places some of your assets into a previously established trust.
  • Holographic will: This must be written in the hand of the person establishing the will. It has no witnesses, and not all jurisdictions will recognize this will as a legal document.
  • Oral or nuncupative will: This type of will is spoken rather than dictated or written. Not all jurisdictions will recognize a nuncupative will as a legal document; it is often used with military personnel.
  • Joint will: This type of will splits the assets and estate of two people, often married couples or partners.
  • Self-proved will: This type of will is established in solemn form with affidavits of witnesses present.
  • Notarial will: This is prepared by a notary in civil law jurisdictions.
  • Mystic will: A mystic will is the term for a will that is sealed until your death.
  • Unsolemn will: This type of will in has an unnamed executor of your estate.

How to Create a Will

There are many requirements that you must be aware of before you create a will.

Before you create any type of will, you must be an adult — at least 18 years old — of sound mind. As mentioned above, there are types of wills that you can write out or speak, but it is advisable to create a typed document with a lawyer or other qualified legal professional and sign it in the presence of witnesses. Your signature should then be notarized to make your will a legal document.

Different states and jurisdictions around the world have different laws and restrictions on what types of wills you can create and what can or cannot be included in your will. For example, some states will not allow you to disinherit close relatives, like children or a spouse.

When to Update Your Will

Updating your will is important whenever a major event happens in your life. Your will should reflect all of your important family members and personal belongings and assets.

You should consider updating your will after any of the following events:

  • You get married or enter into a close relationship.
  • You get divorced.
  • You have or adopt a child.
  • You buy or sell a valuable item, like a piece of property.
  • You change your mind about who you want to manage your estate or receive your assets.

If you wish to update your will, you can either add an amendment to your will or make a new will entirely. An amendment to your will, called a “codicil,” must be signed and dated in the presence of witnesses.

Since many people must go through this process just to add a postscript to their will, it sometimes makes more sense just to create a new will. That way, codicils will not end up contradicting material in the original draft of your will.

When to Create a Will

If you are young and have assets, it is never too early to start thinking about creating your will. If you die without a will, your relatives will have to go through a confusing — and often expensive — legal process to determine who inherits your estate.

No matter the type of will you end up creating, make sure to monitor it and update it if need be. Don’t be afraid to seek legal advice to find out which type of will is right for you!


4 Responses to “Types of Wills: A Guide”

  1. Charlita mcrae Says:

    Hi I’ve been trying to figure out how to locate the offices for where the wills are kept. I haven’t been sure exactly what to type in to find out locations and so when i put the word will in the search engine it gives me every sentence with the word will used in the wrong sense. What’s the correct terminology and legal name of the offices holding wills in your county?

  2. Diane at Legal Language Says:

    You could try using the search term “legal will.” In addition, calling your county clerk’s office for more information may help. Good luck!

  3. Evans Ouma Says:

    when can a will be terminated?

  4. Diane at Legal Language Says:

    Evans, you may want to speak to an attorney about your specific circumstances.

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