Joint Last Wills & Testaments

by Beverly Bird
Joint wills cannot adapt to the changing needs of one partner after the other dies.

Joint wills cannot adapt to the changing needs of one partner after the other dies.

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Joint wills, also called mutual wills, are usually between a husband and wife, but can be between any two people. A joint will is essentially one will for two persons, most appropriate when they share assets. There is some debate about their advantages, since there is very little they can achieve legally beyond what two separate wills can achieve. Not all states accept them, so check with an attorney in your area if you are contemplating writing a joint will.

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Terms

Typically, two individuals leave all their assets to each other in a joint will, with provisions as to what happens to the estate when the second person passes away. For instance, if a husband dies first, his wife would inherit everything they own. When the wife dies, their joint estate might pass to their children. A joint will can only be revoked by the consent of both parties while they are alive. Once one of them has passed away, the terms of a joint will cannot be changed.

Purpose

A joint will ensures that the wishes of both people will be honored after their deaths. Once one spouse or party to the will dies, the surviving partner has virtually no choice but to follow through with the will’s provisions.

Advantage

A joint will can protect assets you have worked hard toward from passing to someone unrelated to you after your death. For instance, if a surviving spouse remarries without a joint will, she could leave her entire estate, presumably inherited from her first husband, to her new husband even though her deceased husband invested years of his life into accumulating the assets. A joint will is one way to ensure that your assets will pass to your children, or someone else of your choosing, rather than your spouse’s new partner.

Disadvantages

Because a joint will can’t be changed after one of the parties dies, the other party is stuck with its terms. Not only is he restricted as to what he can leave to his new spouse if he remarries, but neither can he provide for a faithful caretaker who might tend to him through years of illness in his advancing years if that caretaker came along after the first partner’s death and was not included in the original will. If he would be better off in a nursing home or smaller dwelling, the house he shared with his spouse cannot be sold to pay for more appropriate living arrangements if it is an asset in the joint will. The surviving partner cannot sell any of the joint assets if he needs money or to make a gift to his children before his death if one of them is in need.