A joint will is a single will executed by a married couple that determines how all of their property will be distributed upon their deaths. Generally, in such a document, upon the death of the first spouse, all property will transfer to the other spouse. For the rest of that spouse’s life, the survivor has the right to use the property in any way that he or she sees fit. However, when the second spouse passes away, the remaining property is then distributed to heirs as specified in the will.
On paper, this sounds like a good idea. It saves money as a couple only has to pay an attorney to create one will, and it is convenient as it covers all of a couple’s property. In addition, some spouses find comfort in knowing that their spouse is provided for, while they can also specify that their children from another marriage will receive a share of remaining property. However, while a joint will may be a good option for some couples, it is not a one size fits all solution. In fact, joint wills have proven to be a significant cause of litigation among heirs, especially with larger estates.
One major downside is that when the first spouse passes away, a joint will becomes irrevocable for the surviving spouse. This takes flexibility and the ability to make estate-planning decisions from the surviving spouse, who may live for many years after the death of the first spouse. This includes if the surviving spouse remarries, then the irrevocable joint will prevents the surviving spouse from leaving any property encompassed in the joint will to the new spouse. It also removes the possibility of disinheriting a child who abandons the family or commits a horrible act and is no longer worthy of their inheritance.
An alternative to a joint will is the creation of two separate wills, which can achieve the same purpose as a joint will, but without the irrevocability and inflexibility. Two separate wills can be created that match each other’s terms, including the designation of all children as heirs. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you explore your options.
You Need an Attorney
Estate planning encompasses far more than creating a will, it involves navigating a plethora of legal and financial options to find the best mechanism to achieve your goals. If you need help, contact the Law Office of Robert S. Thomas. I have over twenty years of experience in estate planning and taxation and want to help you make smart, fully informed decisions. Contact our office today at 847-392-5893 to schedule a consultation or visit our website today.