It goes without saying that a last will and testament is an extremely important and personal document, and is designed to lay out the details of someone’s intentions regarding the handling of their property and assets after they die. Failing to create a will can have many unintended consequences, in some cases with the deceased’s property passing to unintended beneficiaries or getting tied up in probate court.
When deciding how to create personal wills and trusts, some couples and/or individuals may decide to create their wills together. These types of wills are called “joint wills”, and in the event of one person’s death the surviving party inherits the entirety of the deceased’s property and assets. The joint will also dictates what happens to the property when the second party dies.
At the fundamental level, this estate planning strategy makes sense for many people. For example, instead of writing and paying for two separate wills, many married couples will choose to simply create a joint will that covers both individuals. Usually the terms of a joint will are relatively simple; both spouses agree that the assets of the first person to pass away will go to the surviving spouse, and when the second spouse passes away the remaining assets are split between the couple’s children (if any). Of course, there are complex situations to address in some cases, but joint wills usually follow this pattern.
However, preventing the surviving spouse to change the terms of a will can have a negative impact on that individual and their remaining family members.
One major caveat to consider is that circumstances often change after the first spouse passes away. The surviving spouse may live many years longer and decides that they may want to divide his or her estate differently after they go through inevitable changes in their personal lives. For instance, the surviving spouse may unexpectedly fall into a new meaningful relationship and remarry, and may even have more children with their new spouse, complicating the issue of how to split the remaining assets of the original will.
Additionally, many people are interested in joint wills because they assume that it costs less to create one will instead of two. However, when a will is drafted for two people, the estate planning attorney must still render advice regarding two estates, so the cost savings from utilizing a joint will is likely to be minimal. Even further, any money you may save by using a joint will may be outweighed by the problems that may arise with your estate years later.
In any case, before deciding to create a joint will, consult with an estate planning attorney to clarify the process and ensure that you have all the information you need to make the best decision for you and your family.
If you are seeking an experienced estate planning attorney in Orange County to help you create a will or comprehensive estate plan, please contact our offices to set up a consultation today! We look forward to hearing from you!