What Are the Four Basic Types of Wills? An Overview

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Creating a will is a crucial step in planning your estate and ensuring that your wishes are respected after your passing. There are several types of wills to consider, each serving different purposes and providing varying levels of complexity and specificity. Here, we will explore the four basic types of wills: simple wills, testamentary trust wills, joint wills, and living wills. 

  1. Simple Wills

A simple will, as the name suggests, is a straightforward and uncomplicated type of will. It’s ideal for individuals with modest estates and clear-cut wishes regarding asset distribution. This document outlines your wishes regarding the distribution of your assets upon your death, providing a sense of reassurance and ease. Key features of a simple will include:

  • Distribution of Assets: Specifies who will receive your property and possessions.
  • Executor Appointment: Name an executor responsible for managing your estate and ensuring your wishes are fulfilled.
  • Guardianship: You can designate guardians for minor children, ensuring their care and upbringing align with your preferences.

Simple wills are ideal for those with modest estates and clear-cut wishes regarding asset distribution.

  1. Testamentary Trust Wills

A testamentary trust will, also known as a will trust or trust under will, is more complex than a simple will. It’s for those who wish to exercise greater control over the distribution of their assets and provide for beneficiaries over an extended period. This will establishes one or more trusts upon your death, specifying how and when your assets will be distributed to beneficiaries. Key features include:

  • Trust Creation: Forms a trust that becomes effective upon your death, with assets managed by a trustee.
  • Beneficiary Control: Allows for detailed instructions on how assets are to be managed and distributed, which can be particularly useful for minor children or beneficiaries who may not be capable of managing large sums of money.
  • Tax Benefits: Tax advantages can be provided, depending on the structure and size of the estate.

Testamentary trust wills are suitable for individuals who wish to exercise greater control over the distribution of their assets and provide for beneficiaries over an extended period. 

  1. Joint Wills

A joint will is a document executed by two people, usually spouses, that combines their testamentary wishes. It outlines how the couple’s assets should be distributed upon their deaths. Key features include:

  • Mutual Agreement: Reflects the shared wishes of both parties regarding asset distribution.
  • Binding Nature: Joint wills are typically binding and cannot be altered after the death of one party without the consent of the surviving party.

While joint wills can simplify the estate planning process for couples, they can also present challenges if circumstances change after one spouse’s death. Therefore, it is often recommended that alternative estate planning tools that provide more flexibility be considered.

  1. Living Wills

A living will, also known as an advance directive, differs significantly from the other types of wills in that it addresses medical care rather than asset distribution. It provides instructions regarding your preferences for medical treatment if you become incapacitated and unable to communicate your wishes. Key features include:

  • Medical Directives: Specify your desires regarding life-sustaining treatment, resuscitation, and other critical medical decisions.
  • Healthcare Proxy: Often includes the designation of a healthcare proxy or power of attorney for healthcare, who can make medical decisions on your behalf.

Living wills, on the other hand, are essential for ensuring that your medical preferences are respected. They provide clear instructions for your loved ones, relieving them of the burden of making difficult healthcare decisions during emotionally challenging times. This can bring a sense of comfort and security during such times.


Choosing the right will type depends on your circumstances and estate planning goals. Simple wills are suitable for straightforward estates, while testamentary trust wills offer greater control over asset distribution. Joint wills provide a unified approach for couples, and living wills ensure your medical preferences are honored. Consulting with an estate planning attorney can help you determine the best type of will for your needs, ensuring your wishes are clearly articulated and legally enforceable.


Protect your loved ones, legacy, and assets. Contact the experienced Estate Planning Law Firm of Figeroux & Associates. Call 855-768-8845 or visit www.askthelawyer.us to book a consultation. The lawyer you hire does make a difference!

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