Joint wills are not commonly used or even known about, but in certain circumstances they can be useful. A joint will is usually created by spouses together; as the name implies, indeed, this type of legal instrument cannot be set up by and for one individual. A Bryan estate planning attorney can discuss the options you have and help you decide whether a joint will meets your needs.
What Is a Joint Will?
A joint will is created by two people who are in a very close relationship and who share assets currently. It should be clear from this why it is rare for anyone other than spouses or individuals living together long-term to establish a joint will. Each spouse bequeaths all assets and property held together to each other. Thus, when one spouse dies, the other receives all of the estate.
How Is a Joint Will Created?
When they set up the will both spouses work together to include assets that will be included in the will. Together they decide who the beneficiaries will be (usually the children), and how the estate will be divided. A guardian will be named for any minor children. Once the will is created, any changes require agreement from both spouses, and the assets contained within are distributed to heirs only after the deaths of both spouses.
What Are the Disadvantages of Joint Wills?
Given that both spouses must agree to any changes in the will, the instrument is very inflexible and rigid. When the first spouse dies, in fact, the other cannot make any changes to the will without taking extraordinary legal steps. This can pose quite a problem, as a Bryan estate planning attorney can tell you. For instance, what if some substantive change occurs in the second spouse's life, such as financial distress? The assets in the will cannot be used to help. What if a beneficiary faces an unexpected and very serious life event, such as serious illness? The assets cannot be used to help him.
Why, Then, Would a Couple Wish to Set up a Joint Will?
Joint wills are definitely only useful in certain circumstances. There are times when it is advantageous that a surviving spouse cannot change the will. Otherwise the survivor may decide to reallocate the assets to another beneficiary. For instance, if the female surviving spouse enters into a new relationship, she may be taken advantage of and convinced to make the new spouse sole beneficiary, a change that runs contrary to the intentions of the will.
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