A joint will is one will that is signed by two different people, usually they are a married couple, that essentially leaves all of their assets to one another. It sounds very simple, however, many believe it is almost always a bad idea. Due to the amount of negative outcomes of a joint will, they have become very seldomly used.
The Idea Behind a Joint Will
The main idea behind a joint will is having one document that is the same regardless of who passes away first. A joint will states that when one spouse dies, the surviving spouse will inherit everything. It also states when the remaining spouse dies, everything will then be passed on to the children.
Joint wills also usually state that no changes can be made to the will without permission from both parties. Basically this means, the will can never be changed if one of the spouses have died. A conventional will can also be revoked or changed, but a joint will is a legally binding contract that cannot be altered at all once one party has died.
A joint will seems desirable as it fulfills the wishes of many couples and addresses some of their key concerns. The joint will provides that the surviving spouse will inherit all of the property when the first spouse dies. Secondly, the joint will assures that the children will inherit everything once the surviving spouse dies. If the surviving spouse remarries, the children would not have to worry that their inheritance could potentially go to their new stepparent. Due to the terms of the joint will, the children would be guaranteed to inherit everything.
Potential Issues with a Joint Will
Estate planning lawyers tend to advise against creating a joint will and they are not used as often anymore. The main reason estate planning lawyers have found joint wills to be difficult is that because the joint will can never be changed after the first spouse dies, there can be very bad results for the surviving spouse if they feel the need to change the will. The surviving spouse may live decades longer than the deceased spouse and they would not be able to react to any changes in life circumstances which could cause their family to suffer.
For instance, if the surviving spouse cannot alter the will at all, they would not be able to:
- Help their grandchildren pay for college
- Provide an adult child with a portion of their inheritance early to start a business or buy a house
- Put any restrictions on money inherited by a child who is not responsible financially
- Sell their family home for something smaller or to move into an assisted living property
- Give away or sell any assets mentioned in the will
You do not need to create a joint will to ensure your children will eventually inherit everything. Parents are able to create a trust and attach restrictions that they would like the surviving spouse to follow which could pertain to the use of property, who manages money, and how old the children have to be to receive the funds.