Estate Planning for Married Couples: The Problem With a Joint Will

A joint will is a single will signed by two individuals, typically by married couples to leave their assets to each other.

Put simply, a joint will states that in the event of the death of one spouse, the surviving spouse would inherit all their assets, and upon the death of the surviving spouse, their children would inherit everything.

While this might seem practical and straightforward, it’s actually not.

Potential Issues of Joint Wills

These days, joint will are rare, mainly because reputable estate attorneys firmly advise against creating one.

Among the biggest issue that joint wills are typically irrevocable, meaning that the surviving spouse won’t be able to make any changes or adjustments to the will, or would need to face a long and arduous court battle to have the will amended, explains a prominent probate lawyer in Denver.

Additionally, the surviving spouse, who might live go on to live for decades following his or her spouse’s death, won’t be able to react to various circumstances or changes in his or her life, and the entire family might be negatively affected because of this.

For instance, you, as the surviving spouse might NOT be capable of:

  • Helping pay for your grandchildren’s college costs;
  • Giving your adult children a portion of their inheritance earlier, maybe to start a small business or purchase a home;
  • Giving away or selling other assets included in the will;
  • Selling your marital home for something smaller, or relocating to an assisted living community; or
  • Imposing conditions on the assets inherited by a financially irresponsible adult child.

Another potential issue is the exclusion or inclusion of stepchildren. For example, if you have children from a previous marriage, and then your remarry and had more children, your children from your first marriage could try to contest your joint will to include them as inheritors following the death of your current spouse.

Also, there’s also the possibility of estate tax complications if your estate is significantly large.

Seeing Legal Counsel

If you are considering creating a joint will as part of you and your spouse’s estate plan, consult a reputable estate-planning attorney first. He or she would be able to tell you about other options, such as a trust, without the restrictions of a joint will.

If you’re the executor of an estate and have been tasked to manage a joint will, it’s also best that you speak with an experienced attorney as a joint will could raise plenty of questions that you would need to answer clearly, and you’d also have to proceed with caution.