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Types of Wills: Which Is Right for You?

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If you’re reading this, you need to have a will. Straight up, everyone who is an adult needs a will. The sad fact is that legal disputes have a nasty way of making life really hard at really inconvenient times. And getting a will is the only way to guarantee that you (and nobody but you) gets to decide who will care for your children and get your stuff when you’re gone. But which type of will is best for your situation?

Understanding the different types of wills doesn’t have to be confusing. We’ll break them down so you can make a smart choice and create a will that’s right for you. And it doesn’t have to be a painful experience—or an expensive one, either.

Living Wills

Even though the names are similar, a living will is not a last will and testament. A living will is a document that explains your wishes for your end-of-life medical care if you can’t speak for yourself. (Hey, it happens more often than you might think.)


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This type of will lets you maintain control of your life and future even if you’re seriously injured or become terminally ill. Every state handles living wills differently, so make sure yours is done to match your state’s requirements.

Here’s something to keep in mind about a living will: no matter how much you research the medical field, the living will is always going to be limited to what you knew when you wrote it. That doesn’t mean there’s zero advantage to a living will for a family facing tough medical decisions about a loved one. A living will is very helpful to have in place, and it can go a long way to spelling out your wishes about how to handle those challenging end-of-life choices. At the same time, nobody can know all the possible issues that might come up in a hospital. Which is why a detailed living will should be paired with a medical power of attorney.

With a medical POA, the person you named (like your spouse or trusted friend) knows what you would want done under the circumstances and would make the best possible choice that included new medical procedures or treatments. That’s a big advantage in a potential life-or-death situation! There are a few important differences between a living will and a medical POA, so do some research to make sure you pick the best document for your own circumstances.

Joint Wills

A joint will is a document created by two people who leave their stuff to each other. (Think husband and wife.) It’s a single document two people sign. In it, the couple agrees that when one spouse dies, the other inherits the whole estate. Pretty logical, right?

When the surviving spouse dies, their stuff goes to someone the couple named together. A mutual will does the same thing, only it involves two wills that both spouses sign.

There’s something you need to know, though, about joint wills. They were popular back in the day when wills were always written or typed (like on a typewriter). Why? Because joint wills saved time and money.

But now, they can be a big headache. That’s because the surviving spouse can’t change a joint will even after the death of their spouse. So if a surviving spouse remarries and has a stepchild, they can’t leave anything in the joint will to that stepchild. And that’s not cool!

And this issue isn’t limited just to situations of remarriage and step-children. Sometimes people want or need to change their wills in situations where a child (and potential heir) goes off the rails or is living in an unhealthy way. Nobody would want to help fund dangerous habits, and the ability to alter a will as circumstances change is important. But you can’t do that if you have joint wills.

The same problems apply to mutual wills. If you and your spouse use either of these will types, your family will likely end up with a legal headache.

A better option is a mirror will. Also called a reciprocal will, this option is great because it spells out several things:

  • What happens if he dies
  • What happens if she dies
  • The fact that the exact same thing happens if they both die, stated in both wills.

A mirror will includes two wills that are drafted almost identically, but they have different names as testators (the people making the will) and are signed individually.

Often, mirror wills state that the surviving spouse inherits the estate and cares for the kids, but other details may be different. Because mirror wills are actually two different wills, part of the estate can go to someone besides the surviving spouse. So you can leave the antique family brooch to your sister or cousin, and leave the rest of your stuff to your spouse.

The other advantage of a mirror will is the ability to change it. Like we said before, this can be important if you remarry, go through a divorce or need to remove a family member for other reasons. That flexibility is one of the reasons financial experts like Dave Ramsey recommend mirror wills.

Holographic Wills

Nope, a holographic will wasn’t invented at a sci-fi convention. It’s a last will and testament that is written and signed by hand. Believe it or not, these wills are still around. People in life-threatening situations (a soldier in a combat zone, for example) may write one if they think they might not survive.

But not all states accept holographic wills as valid, so if you have one, make sure it’s accepted where you live. That’s one of the problems with handwritten wills. With today’s technology, it’s a whole lot easier to create a will online and save your family the possible heartache and frustration of an invalid will.

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Nuncupative Wills

Despite the way the word sounds, a nuncupative will has nothing to do with acupuncture. A nuncupative will is a last will and testament that’s spoken out loud instead of written down. This kind of will is made because the testator (person making the will) may pass away soon.

Nuncupative wills have rules that differ from state to state, much like holographic wills. Sometimes, a testator (person stating their wishes aloud) has to be dying.

In some states, a nuncupative will is valid only if three or more people witness the person speaking. Some states require a nuncupative will to be written down after being spoken, and other states won’t recognize a spoken will at all.

Deathbed Wills

A deathbed will is exactly what it sounds like—you create it if you’re facing certain death. You can write and sign it by hand, or you can type it out and sign it in the presence of witnesses. It sounds a lot like the holographic wills we mentioned above. The only real difference is that holographic wills are always handwritten—never typed.”

The thing about deathbed wills is that they’re almost always written at times of very high stress for everyone involved. No matter how you create one, this kind of will can cause all sorts of problems. They’re often filled with errors because they’re written so quickly. And it’s harder to prove them as valid.

Since you make them when you’re under a lot of stress or pain, your mental state may be questioned. There’s a chance you might leave out some of your assets too, so that means the court would decide what happens to them. Nobody wants that.

Living Trusts

A living trust doesn’t count as a type of will, but since they’re often created while people are drawing up their last wills, you might have heard about them.

The main purpose of a living trust is to give you more privacy around your estate planning than you can get from a will. It transfers ownership of your assets to the trust, so it actually owns your stuff even though you’re still alive. It also spells out how to distribute your stuff after you pass away.

One big plus about living trusts is that they don’t have to go through probate (that’s the court process that deals with wills). And since it’s technically a private document, a living trust gives you a measure of privacy that wills can’t give you. On the downside, a living trust can be expensive to set up, typically at least $1,000.

Living trusts come in two flavors: revocable trusts and irrevocable trusts. You can’t change an irrevocable trust, hence the name. There are benefits and drawbacks to both kinds, so make sure you know the differences between revocable and irrevocable trusts.

Testamentary Trusts

A testamentary trust is a trust that’s written inside a will. It’s also called a will trust or a trust under will. Creative names, right?

A testamentary trust distributes all or part of your estate (your stuff) after you die, but the trust is not created until after you die. It’s different than a living trust, which is created while you’re still alive. You can create more than one testamentary trust within your will.

A will trust is often used when you want to provide for a disabled relative or a minor, or if you want someone to receive their inheritance when they reach a certain age or milestone. Typically, the assets (money, jewelry, land, etc.) within a trust are held until a specific time—like a person’s 25th birthday or after their college graduation.

Since the testamentary trust is inside a will, it has to go through probate after you pass away.

And until the person (or people) named in the trust receive their inheritance, the trustee (person who carries out the trust) has to go to probate court every year to prove they’re taking care of your stuff as instructed and aren’t using it for personal gain. Those probate costs could add up over the years.

Simple Wills

A simple will is a basic will without any fancy clauses or stipulations. Despite its name, you can do a lot with a simple will. You can declare how you want your stuff given away and who gets it.

You can also name a guardian for your kids if something happens to you and choose the person (called a personal representative or executor) who will make sure your will is carried out. And you can even name the person you want to care for your favorite ferret. A simple will can cover a lot of ground.

Which Type of Will Is Right for You?

The kind of will you choose depends on a lot of factors, including how much money you have, whether or not you own a business, and if you have property that’s stayed in your family for multiple generations. With all the different types of wills out there, you can find the right one for your situation.

Fortunately, you don’t have to go to a lawyer’s office or spend a fortune to have your will created. You can create your own will online with RamseyTrusted provider Mama Bear Legal Forms in less than 20 minutes! All you have to do is plug in your information, and the rest is done for you.

Here’s what you really need to know. Creating a will is one of the most important and most loving things you can do for your family. Why? Because at the end of the day, everyone needs to know that the people and things they care about will be taken care of, no matter what happens. With a will in place, you get to make absolutely sure of that. And now, since you know their different features, you can get your will done and mark it off your list!

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Take the worry out of making your will. Protect your family with a simple, legal online will—all from the comfort of home. Save 10% on your will with the RAMSEY10 promo code.
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