If you and your spouse have committed to putting your wills in place next year, what’s the most efficient way to do it? If nearly all of your assets are jointly owned and you have the same beneficiaries, you may think that one will that is signed by both of you is the simplest solution for your estate plan.
Having a single will, sometimes called a joint will, however, is generally discouraged. While a joint will can be modified or revoked if both spouses agree, that can be problematic if one spouse becomes seriously capacitated or perhaps develops dementia.
Further, when one spouse dies, a joint will becomes irrevocable. That means if the surviving spouse remarries, they can’t provide for their new spouse or stepchildren. Even in they don’t remarry, they can’t do anything to address other family changes.
How do reciprocal (mirror) wills work?
If your and your spouse’s assets and your wishes for their disbursal after you’re both gone are largely shared, the recommended option is often to create two separate reciprocal wills. These are also known as mirror wills since they “mirror” one another.
With reciprocal wills, each spouse typically lists the other as their sole beneficiary if they die first. They generally then list their children or others as their contingent beneficiaries. Those beneficiaries receive their inheritances after the surviving spouse dies.
You can provide for other beneficiaries before both spouses die
The surviving spouse can always gift assets to children, other family members or charities as they choose. Just be aware of potential tax implications for large gifts. It’s just important to keep in mind tax considerations. There are other options as well.
No two couples or families are alike. That’s why the best course of action is to have experienced legal guidance so that you can do what’s best for yourselves and your loved ones.