What Are Joint Wills?
Couples sometimes ask about joint wills and whether they’re the best option to ensure that their partner will have financial security if one of them passes away first. Joint wills used to be a common estate-planning strategy. But now most estate planning lawyers agree that they often create more problems than they solve.
What Is A Joint Will?
A joint will is a legal document executed by two (or more) people, which merges their individual wills into a single, combined last will and testament. Like most wills, a joint will lets the will-makers name who will get their property and assets after they die.
Joint wills are usually created by married couples. They often state that:
After one spouse has died, all the couple’s property will be left to the surviving spouse; and
After the surviving spouse dies, the remaining property will be left to the couple’s children.
Like a contract — though unlike a regular will — you or your partner can’t change or revoke a joint will without permission from the other. That’s why joint wills may appear attractive. They prevent the surviving partner from changing their minds about what to do with their property after the first partner dies. And this stays true even if the surviving partner remarries, has more children, or needs to sell the property to pay bills.
When Is a Joint Will a Good Idea?
A joint will can be a good idea if both you and your partner are in total agreement about how you want to distribute your property, your estates aren’t complicated, and you only have a few beneficiaries.
When Is a Joint Will a Good Idea?
If your circumstances change after you or your partner dies, joint wills can become burdensome.
A married pair, for example, creates a joint will. They leave all they own, including the home they purchased together, to:
First, whoever of them survives the other; and second, whichever of them survives the other.
Then there’s their daughter.
Let’s imagine one of them dies, and the surviving spouse is forced to sell their home to pay for unexpected medical expenditures. Because they have already said that their home will be given to their daughter, the joint will make this difficult. And now that one of them has passed away, the surviving spouse is powerless to amend the will.
Consider the case where the surviving spouse has a major disagreement with their daughter. If they want to disinherit her, the joint means they won’t be able to do so.
Is It Necessary to Make a Joint Will?
You should make a will in general. However, because of the potential for complications with joint wills, most estate planning specialists advise against it.
Instead of shared wills, most people choose other options such as mirror wills and trusts. However, you should consult a trust and estate attorney if you are convinced you to want to draft a combined will. They will be able to guide you through the procedure and assist you in creating the necessary documentation.
The Difference Between A Joint Will And A Mirror Will
A joint will is the combination of your and your partner’s wishes into one, while a mirror will reflect the same will (nearly identical). In the case of a mirror will your partner will be the primary beneficiary (vice-versa), compared to a joint will – a mirror will be changed without your partner’s approval.
It is important to consider drafting your will with your partner, especially if there is an estate and other assets at stake. Look at the different options that may work for you and from there you will be able to make a choice by reviewing the pros and the cons. Let us know in the comments what option you like best…