Joint Last Wills and Testaments

Joint Last Wills and Testaments

by Michelle Fabio, Esq., December 2014

Joint last wills and testaments provide for the disposition of the assets of two people, most often a husband and wife although they can be between any two people. A joint will is one document and is also known by the term “mutual will,” but it should not be confused with a “mirror will,” which refers to a will that is identical to another will.

What Is a Joint Last Will?

In a joint will, two individuals leave all of their assets to the other and then agree on what should happen to those assets when the other person dies. In a common scenario involving joint wills, a married couple might decide to leave everything to the surviving spouse upon the death of the first person; then, upon the death of the surviving spouse, the assets would pass directly to the couple’s children.

The purpose of a joint last will is to ensure that the wishes of both parties are followed upon their deaths. The surviving spouse is bound to the provisions of the joint will as the terms can only be changed with the consent of both parties.

Are There Advantages and Disadvantages to Joint Last Wills?

The main advantage of joint wills is the peace of mind for the individuals involved as they know exactly what will happen to their assets upon their deaths. If you are concerned, for instance, that your spouse will remarry after your death and then leave your assets to the new spouse, a joint will could prohibit that.

It is important to note, however, that a joint will cannot accomplish anything legally beyond what two separate wills can do.

On the flip side, however, is that circumstances can change drastically after the death of the first person but the surviving spouse would still be bound to the terms of the joint will. In that sense, one major disadvantage of a joint will is that it can tie up property for years until the second person dies even when a newer will reflecting the changed circumstances would have been appropriate.

For example, if the family home were bequeathed in a joint will to then be left to the children, the surviving spouse could not sell the home even if he or she needed money or to move into an assisted living facility.

Is a Joint Last Will for Us?

Whether a joint last will is a good estate planning option for you depends on your circumstances. One of the main instances in which joint wills can be useful is when a couple shares the majority, if not all, of their assets.

Before moving forward however, you must know that not all states recognize the validity of joint last wills and testaments. Accordingly, it is of the utmost importance that you inform yourself regarding your state’s laws on joint wills.

How to Make a Joint Will

If you have decided to make a will jointly with another person, the next step is making the will itself. For this you can either use do-it-yourself forms, an online service, or an attorney—again, always making sure that your joint will complies with your state’s laws.

Thinking about making a joint will? Start by speaking with an attorney. With the LegalZoom estate plan bundle, you get one year of legal advice from an independent attorney, plus two last wills, two living wills and two powers of attorney for one low price.