Married couples and other longtime partners often believe that a joint will is the easiest and least costly way to handle their estate planning. They can designate that whichever one of them outlives the other will inherit everything and then their children and other heirs or beneficiaries will inherit the remainder when the second one passes away. So why not have a joint will that stipulates those things instead of two separate wills?
A joint will becomes irrevocable for the surviving spouse
Perhaps the primary disadvantage of a joint will is that once the first spouse has died, it becomes irrevocable. That’s why they’re typically discouraged by estate planning attorneys.
A lot can happen during the surviving spouse’s life after their mate passes away, and they won’t be able to address any of that in their will. For example, if they remarry, they won’t be able to add their new spouse or potentially any stepchildren to their will.
If one of the couple’s children develops substance abuse issues or becomes seriously irresponsible with money, their surviving parent may fear what they would do with the inheritance provided for them in the will. However, they can’t change the terms of that joint will.
Alternatives to a joint will
There are a number of alternatives to creating a joint will. For example, both partners can create individual wills that essentially mirror one another. They can leave everything to their surviving spouse. This frees up that spouse to make whatever changes they feel necessary to their own will later on.
Another option is to set up a trust that will eventually provide for their children and other heirs. The trust can allow the surviving spouse to make changes if they choose to after the death of their partner.
Estate planning is not an area where you want to choose the easiest, least expensive and quickest route. It’s too important, and there are too many things that can be challenged in court later on if an estate plan is not correctly drafted.
That doesn’t mean it has to be complicated. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you and your spouse ensure that you have a plan in place that will meet your needs and properly convey your wishes for your estate.