When a couple gets married they plan to stay together “until death do us part.” With this in mind, many couples think that it is a good idea to get a joint (also called a combined) will to address what should happen to their assets after they pass away. This desire is especially popular for couples whose children are already grown and on their own, which can make deciding inheritance much easier.
While on the surface a joint will makes sense, there are actually quite a few very significant disadvantages to going this route. Today, almost all family law and estate planning law attorneys recommend each spouse having their own will. The following are some of the biggest reasons for this type of recommendation.
Spouses Rarely Die at the Same Time
Occasionally you will read about a couple who, after a lengthy marriage, died in each other’s arms at the same time. While romantic, it is certainly not very common. Since couples don’t die at the same time very often, having a joint will doesn’t make much sense. The will would have to be unnecessarily complicated just to account for the very likely possibility that one spouse dies first. When each spouse has their own will, the spouse who dies first simply has their will executed normally, without any added difficulty.
A Joint Will is Locked After One Spouse Dies
When one spouse does die first, if there is a joint will, it becomes “locked in.” This is because the will is a legal document identifying the wishes of two parties. If one of the parties dies, their wishes can no longer change and they can’t give consent to updating the will. While there are certain legal ways around this in some situations, it is quite difficult and can be an unreasonable burden to put on the surviving spouse.
Couples with Blended Households May Have Different Needs
Today more than ever, married couples are on their second (or more) marriage, often with children from prior relationships. While blended families can certainly be a happy and beautiful thing, they can create legal complications for joint wills. In many cases, the spouses may have separate assets that they want passed to their biological children. The easiest way to do this is to have a separate will that identifies what should be done with those specific assets.
Potential for Privacy Issues
When someone dies, their will often must go through the probate process. This is a public process, which means the will becomes available to anyone who wants to see it. If it is a joint will, that can present some serious privacy concerns for the surviving spouse. Having separate wills, on the other hand, limits what information will be disclosed through probate to only that which is in the deceased’s will.
Get Help with Your Wills
If you already have a joint will, you can always change it as long as both spouses are alive. If you would like to create new wills, or modify existing ones, contact the Vasquez de Lara Law Group to set up a consultation with an experienced estate planning attorney. We can help to create a will or other documents that accomplish the goals of both you, and your spouse.