You and your spouse have decided that it’s time to do your estate planning. You’ve been married for many years, and just about everything you have is jointly owned.
You want a simple will that allows you both to leave everything to the other spouse if you predecease them. Then, upon their death, they’ll leave everything to your children and other beneficiaries.
The problems with joint and mutual wills
Joint wills, where there’s one document signed by both spouses, are typically not recommended. Some probate courts won’t even honor them. A potentially serious drawback to a joint will is that once one of the spouses dies, the other can’t make changes to it, no matter how necessary. If an adult child, for example, demonstrates that they’re no longer able to handle their future inheritance (perhaps because they’ve developed a drug or gambling problem), there’s nothing you can do about it.
Mutual wills basically serve the same purpose as a joint will. These are two identical wills created by each spouse. They include an addendum (known as a codicil) stipulating that neither can be changed unless both spouses agree. Just as with a joint will, this means that the surviving spouse can’t change the terms of their will after their spouse dies.
Reciprocal (mirror) wills are more flexible
These can serve the same purpose as joint or mutual wills for spouses who have identical wishes for their assets. However, reciprocal wills have more flexibility. That’s because a surviving spouse can change the terms of their will after their spouse dies.
A disadvantage of all of these types of “joint” wills is that if a couple has adult children, they may not be able to inherit anything until both parents have died. You can solve that problem by gifting assets while you’re alive or possibly setting up trusts.
Even a “simple” estate plan requires careful consideration of all the options to help ensure that you’re providing for your loved ones in the way you intend to. That’s why having sound legal guidance is crucial.