On this website, we use the term “simple will” to describe the very specific type of will for which we have drafted do-it-yourself instructions. When we use the term “simple will,” we mean a last will and testament made under the laws of the State of Washington containing no trust or other similarly complex provisions. We call such wills “simple wills” because, when compared with wills containing trust provisions, simple wills are relatively simple.
Although we use the term “simple will” throughout this website to mean the very specific type of will our instructions explain how to draft, the term as we use it is not a widely accepted definition in the legal community. Other lawyers might use the term to mean something very different than what we use it to mean. If you encounter the term elsewhere, be aware that it might not mean the same thing there that it means here.
With a simple will, you can:
- make unrestricted gifts of your probate assets after you die, including probate assets that are your separate property or comprise your share of community property, community-like property, and quasi-community property;
- make unrestricted gifts of your probate assets to minors, such as your children, in the form of a custodianship;
- keep a writing, separate from your will, of unrestricted gifts of your tangible personal property;
- make arrangements to prevent your probate assets from being given to someone in your family who would otherwise inherit them from you;
- appoint the personal representative of your estate;
- appoint a custodian of any custodianship created by the will;
- appoint a guardian for any of your minor children who are without a surviving parent when you die; and
- grant and/or restrict the authority of your appointed personal representatives, custodians, and guardians.
If you only want your will to accomplish the above goals, a simple will is probably a good choice for you.
A simple will is usually not the right tool for:
- making unrestricted gifts of real estate located in the United States, but outside of the State of Washington.
If you want to use your will to give away real estate outside of the State of Washington, you should ask a lawyer whether a simple will is the right choice for you. Using a simple will for this goal may require your personal representative to start a separate probate proceeding in every state where you own real estate, which can be unnecessarily costly.
A simple will is not suitable for:
- making restricted gifts of any kind;
- making a gift to a beneficiary for a limited time or limited purpose, such as giving a life estate in real property;
- making gifts of your property that is located outside of the United States;
- making gifts of your nonprobate assets (see also super wills);
- making arrangements for the care of an elderly person or another person with special needs;
- planning for the avoidance or minimization of state or federal estate tax;
- planning for the avoidance or minimization of estate liens such as a Medicaid lien; or
- appointing a guardian of a child or creating a guardianship to prevent the child’s other parent from taking custody of the child.
If you want to accomplish one of these more complex tasks, you will need more than a simple will and should contact a lawyer for assistance. If you want a simple will but you are located outside of Washington State, you should not use this website, and should instead find an estate planning lawyer who is licensed to practice law where you live.
Lastly, a will — whether simple or complex — cannot be used to appoint people to manage your financial or health care needs while you are alive if you are ever incapacitated. Documents that accomplish these purposes are part of a complete estate plan. To learn more, read about durable powers of attorney for financial matters, durable powers of attorney for health care, and health care directives.
If you are ready to get started drafting your simple will, you can get started now.