If you and your spouse have been married for decades, your assets are likely largely or entirely combined. Your estate planning needs may seem simple. You just want whomever outlives the other to have all of your assets. When you’re both gone, you want your adult children (or maybe a charitable organization you both support) to inherit the remaining assets.
Many couples think that a joint will signed by both of spouses will accomplish this aim. While you could find such a document online, it’s not the best option. In fact, joint wills can be deemed invalid by a probate court judge. Thankfully, there are better options that can help you and your spouse accomplish your estate planning goals while still allowing the flexibility you may need in the future.
What’s wrong with a joint will?
A joint will is a single estate planning document signed by both spouses. That means it requires the informed consent of both spouses to revoke or modify it. Therefore, if one of you suffers cognitive decline in the future, the other spouse won’t be able to change the will unilaterally. The same is true after one spouse dies. You never know what could happen, and you don’t want to be left with no way to allow for the unexpected.
How does a reciprocal will work?
A frequently used alternative to a joint will is two reciprocal wills. These are sometimes referred to as “mirror” wills since they mirror one another. Generally, each spouse’s will designates that their husband or wife will inherit all their assets if they die first. They also designate what happens to any remaining assets after both are gone, and both of these provisions are the same in both wills.
Because each spouse has their own will, whichever one outlives the other is free to make any changes they may need to once the other is gone. They can also make changes while the other spouse is alive and can even terminate their existing document if having a reciprocal will is no longer their preferred estate planning approach.
Even if you consider your estate planning needs uncomplicated, it’s wise to have legal guidance to help ensure that your will and any other documents are legally valid and meet your needs and goals. You and your spouse can seek legal guidance at any time to meet your estate planning aims.