What is a simple will?

Creating a simple will is easy if you follow a few key rules.

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by Brette Sember, J.D.
updated May 11, 2023 ·  2min read

A simple will is a legal document that states who will inherit your assets and belongings after you pass away. A will is also sometimes called a last will and testament, and the person creating the will is called the testator.

If you don't create a will, your state laws—called intestacy laws—will determine who inherits your assets.

Making a simple will doesn't have to be complicated, and having one will give you the peace of mind of knowing that your wishes are carried out.


What's included in a simple will?

simple will is made up of a basic set of components. In general, it:

  • Identifies the testator
  • Indicates that the testator is of sound mind and understands that the document is a will
  • States who the beneficiaries of the will are and what they are receiving
  • Names an executor, or person who will be responsible for distributing the assets to the beneficiaries
  • Contains the signature of the testator
  • Contains witness signatures

How to make sure your will is valid

Because a simple will is short and has basic terms, you can consider creating your own. However, be aware that each state has its own specific requirements for what must be contained in a will for it to be valid.

You must check your state laws and follow its requirements. These include:

  • The required age of the testator (in most states you must be age 18)
  • Testamentary intent (the intent to make a will when creating the document)
  • Lack of coercion, duress, or fraud (you must know it is a will and sign it freely)
  • Signature of the testator
  • The correct number of witnesses (in most states this is two, but be sure to check your own state laws)

Handwritten wills

In general, it's best if a will is typed or printed and witnessed, but some states permit unwitnessed handwritten wills (also called holographic wills). To be valid, a holographic will must meet that state's specific requirements.

This might include a witness who can identify the testator's handwriting. The following states permit handwritten wills:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Idaho
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia
  • Wyoming

More complex wills

A simple will covers just the basics and may be sufficient for a young single person or a married couple with no children and few assets. The more complicated your life, the more complex your will needs to be. Wills can also include the following:

  • Naming a guardian for a minor child
  • Joint provisions with a spouse, such as provisions determining who will be considered to have died first if a married couple dies simultaneously
  • Establishment of a trust, including a special needs trust for a disabled child or spousal trusts
  • No-contest clauses
  • Complex formulas determining the portion of the estate that will go to each child or grandchild
  • Specific and detailed bequests of personal property, real estate, vehicles, investments, collectibles, and more
  • Charitable donations or charitable trusts
  • Self-proving affidavits from witnesses (so that they need not testify in probate court)

A simple will is easy to prepare and gives you control over what happens to your belongings after you die. Everyone should have a will so they can make their wishes known.

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Brette Sember, J.D.

About the Author

Brette Sember, J.D.

Brette Sember, J.D., practiced law in New York, including divorce, mediation, family law, adoption, probate and estates,… Read more

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