A lot of married couples put off estate planning until well into their senior years. That’s risky for a lot of reasons. However, if you and your spouse have finally been convinced by your kids or your friends to at least get a will, you may think that a joint will is the best, simplest way to go.
That may seem logical if you’ve been together for many years and all of your assets are shared. Why draw up two documents when you’re both just leaving everything to whoever outlives the other and then eventually to your children? However, a joint will can present unexpected problems. In fact, it could even be ruled invalid by a probate court.
The limitations of a joint will
Before we look at an alternative, let’s briefly discuss what a joint will is and its limitations. It’s one document signed by both spouses. That means both spouses’ consent is needed to modify or revoke it. What if one of you develops dementia and no longer has what is called “testamentary capacity” to agree to changes?
Further, once one of you dies, your joint will can no longer be modified or revoked. That means if you needed to change it for any reason, you couldn’t.
How does a reciprocal will work?
Reciprocal wills (also known as mirror wills) are often a good choice for couples considering a joint will. Like joint wills, they’re right for couples who each want the surviving spouse to inherit their assets and have the same wishes for their remaining estate after both are gone.
Unlike a joint will, however, reciprocal wills are two separate documents, each signed by one spouse, that are mirror images of one another. The primary advantage is that if one spouse predeceases the other, the surviving spouse can still modify their own will. Further, either spouse is free to change their will at any point. However, they’ll no longer have reciprocal wills unless both spouses make the same changes.
There are a lot of estate planning options available, even for people who consider their needs simple. The best way to find out about them and determine how you can best provide for your family and leave the legacy you want to leave is to get experienced estate planning guidance.