What is the difference between a simple will and a succession plan?

21 September 2023

Will photo

At various key milestones in your life, you might be advised that you need to get a will, even if you are young and in good health. Most people think about getting a will when they get married, or have children. Others might think about it once they have accumulated substantial assets, reach a certain age, face a life-threatening illness, or engage in a risky activity.

Whatever causes you to take this step, it is certainly a good idea to make plans about how to look after your family and loved ones.

For many people, a simple will which sets out who will manage their estate, and how the assets will be distributed, is sufficient. However, depending on what assets you own, and whether they involve companies, trusts, partnerships or businesses, you may need more than just a will to ensure that you don’t leave behind problems and disputes.

Simple Will

A simple will sets out how you want your assets to be distributed after you die. It is a relatively straightforward legal instrument, typically used by individuals with relatively uncomplicated estates. Here are some key characteristics of a simple will:

  • Asset Distribution: A simple will specifies how your assets, such as real estate, personal property, and financial accounts, should be distributed among your beneficiaries. You can designate specific individuals or organizations as recipients of your assets.
  • Executor: In a simple will, you appoint an executor who will be responsible for carrying out your wishes as outlined in the will. The executor's role includes settling debts, paying taxes, and distributing assets according to your instructions.
  • Guardianship: If you have minor children, a simple will can be used to name guardians who will take care of them in the event of your passing. This provision is crucial for ensuring the well-being of your children.
  • Simplicity: Simple wills are relatively easy and cost-effective to create, making them a suitable choice for individuals with straightforward estate planning needs.

Succession Plan: A Comprehensive Approach

A succession plan, on the other hand, is a more comprehensive and strategic approach to estate planning. It encompasses various legal and financial strategies to protect your assets, minimize tax liabilities, and ensure a seamless transition of your business or wealth to the next generation or chosen beneficiaries. Here are some key aspects of a succession plan:

  • Business Continuity: If you own a business, a succession plan outlines how the business will continue to operate after your retirement, disability, or passing. It involves selecting successors, training them, and creating a smooth transition plan to maintain business continuity.
  • Tax Efficiency: Succession planning takes into account the potential tax implications of transferring assets to beneficiaries and will ensure that money is not unnecessarily wasted on taxes.
  • Asset Protection: A succession plan can provide protection for your assets, safeguarding them from potential creditors, lawsuits, or other threats. Trusts and other legal structures may be used to achieve this.
  • Multigenerational Planning: Succession plans often extend beyond a single generation, considering the needs and goals of future descendants. This ensures the long-term preservation of family wealth and values.
  • Complexity: Due to the comprehensive nature of succession planning, it can be considerably more complex than a simple will. It may involve various legal documents, such as trusts, shareholders agreements, buy-sell agreements, and insurance policies.


A simple will is suitable for individuals with straightforward estate matters, providing a basic framework for asset distribution and guardianship. In contrast, a succession plan is a comprehensive strategy designed to protect and transition assets, especially in cases involving businesses or substantial wealth.

The choice between a simple will and a succession plan depends on the complexity of your financial situation and your long-term goals.

Douglas Cheveralls Lawyers are experienced in providing advice about which type of estate planning is appropriate for you, and can provide a cost-effective solution, tailored to your needs.