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Joint wills: Old legal documents with few benefits

An interesting type of will that many people don't know about is a joint will. It's a unique legal document in that it allows a surviving spouse to inherit the entire estate upon their spouse's death.

Joint wills are executed by two or more people at the same time. Usually, they're made for married couples, combining their last will and testaments. With joint wills, the surviving party is able to receive the entire estate when their spouse dies. Usually, when the second party passes, the estate then passes to the spouses' children, if they have them.

Why don't you hear about joint wills today?

Joint wills aren't very common. There are a great number of problems that can arise from using them, and there are few advantages compared to other legal documents. Long ago, these wills were used to save time, but with the use of technology, there is no reason to set up a joint will to save time alone.

Even if you've considered a joint will, you should know that there are problems with them. The biggest problem is that the surviving spouse can't change the terms of the will, even if their circumstances have changed. This is particularly problematic if the surviving spouse remarries and has a stepchild they want to leave assets to or if they want to disinherit a child. Essentially, since the deceased spouse can't agree to changes, none can be made. This takes all the control away from the surviving spouse.

Joint wills are discouraged. Your attorney can talk to you about other wills and legal documents that can protect you and give you more control instead of this style of will, which comes with many risks and few benefits for most people.

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