What Is a Simple Will?

Simple wills only name your assets, beneficiaries and an executor.
Erin Oppenheim
By Erin Oppenheim 
Published
Edited by Tina Orem

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A simple will is a last will and testament that only names assets, beneficiaries and an executor. Simple wills are best for people who only want to designate how to distribute assets among family and friends. They do not assign guardians for children, pour-over provisions or special rules.

When you begin the estate planning process, it’s clear that every document or directive comes with varying levels of complexity depending on your assets, family and goals. How complex, or simple, your estate plan is is entirely up to you.

Simple wills name your assets, beneficiaries and an executor. That’s it.

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Simple will vs. regular will

The main difference between a simple will and a regular will is the complexity. Simple wills are relatively easy to create online and only name an executor, list assets and beneficiaries, and describe how to distribute them. They are generally best for distributing personal belongings and small amounts of money.

On the other hand, regular wills are for more complex situations. If you have a large estate, specific needs or young children, a regular will provides more flexibility. You can appoint guardians for your children, include contingency plans, add a trust or take other measures to protect your assets and your beneficiaries when you die

American Bar Association. Introduction to Wills. Accessed Nov 27, 2023.
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How a simple will works

A simple will is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a bare-bones option for anyone looking to leave their money, assets and/or personal belongings to their beneficiaries (namely their spouse and surviving children) equally without setting up a more complex trust.

How much does a simple will cost?

Will type

Cost to draw up online

Cost to draw up with estate planning attorney

Simple will

$40-$300.

$300–$1,000. (On the lower end of this range for simpler wills.)

Testamentary (regular) will

$100–$300.

$300–$1,000. (On the higher end of this range for more complex wills.)

Free (handwritten will).

This will type is made without support from a lawyer.

How to write a simple will

You can draft a simple will yourself, use an online service or hire an estate planning attorney to help you. Here are the steps to create and execute a simple will.

Step 0: Before you get started, make a checklist of your primary beneficiaries and the assets you want to account for in your will.

Step 1: Select an online service or reach out to an estate lawyer to begin the process. If you choose to use an online service, you’ll need to set up an account through their website.

🤓Nerdy Tip

Some online services provide access to assistance or document review from an attorney, depending on the package you buy.

Step 2: Name your executor. An executor is in charge of ensuring that your final wishes are obeyed and your assets are distributed according to your will and the probate process rules.

Step 3: Name your beneficiaries. Thanks to your work in step 0, this should be relatively straightforward and simple. Beneficiaries can include family, children, close friends, nonprofits, other charitable institutions or schools.

🤓Nerdy Tip

Simple wills do not name guardians for your dependents. For that, you’ll need to create a regular will, also known as a testamentary will. You can still create those online.

Step 4: Prepare your assets. Your work in step 0 should make this process a little easier because you already have a list of your assets. You will likely need to name beneficiaries directly on your bank accounts, deeds, retirement accounts, life insurance policies and similar accounts. Be sure to keep that information up to date.

Step 5: List your debts. If you have outstanding debts when you die, your estate is responsible for paying them. By listing out all your debts in your will, your executor and beneficiaries will know how much might be left for heirs after everything is paid.

Be sure to include any:

  • Unpaid taxes.

  • Credit card debt.

  • Student loans.

  • Mortgage payments. 

In the U.S., debts are not passed down to surviving heirs after a loved one dies. However, taxes and other debts are paid first out of the estate before inheritance is disbursed

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Step 6: Finalize and execute your will. Sign and date the document with three witnesses. These witnesses should not be people who are inheriting something from you

National Council on Aging. How to Make a Will Without a Lawyer in 2023. Accessed Nov 27, 2023.
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🤓Nerdy Tip

A holographic will is a handwritten will. It doesn’t require witnesses. However, wills without witnesses may carry added risk of being contested or invalidated in court.

Once your documents are finalized, signed and dated, make copies. Update your will at least every five years and when a major life change occurs.

Pros and cons of a simple will

There is a lot to consider when deciding whether to draft a simple will or a regular will.

Pros of drafting a simple will

  • Relatively easy.

  • Outlines who gets your personal belongings or small amounts of money. 

  • Low to no cost if using online services or an estate lawyer. 

  • Quick and easy to update. 

Cons of drafting a simple will

  • Might overlook people, situations or dynamics that could complicate the distribution of your assets. 

  • Heirs or courts may misinterpret it. 

  • Does not apply to more complex estates with a lot of assets and property. 

  • Does not account for dependents/minors and naming a guardian. 

Frequently asked questions

Probably not. It’s a good idea for anyone to have a will and continue to review and update it regularly. If you’re 18 or older, you can draw up a legally binding will.

Any land or real property you own, as well as any personal property or belongings that you don’t own jointly with someone who has a right of survivorship.

Your simple will is valid until you choose to update it or revoke it for any reason. If you get divorced after signing your will and there is a property settlement, you may have to update your will.

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