In our estate planning practice, a common question that our attorneys receive from spouses is whether they can (or should) prepare a joint will. This is a logical question, and if you search online, you will find plenty of references to the joint will concept.
However, while a joint will is an option, it may not be the best option for married couples seeking to put together their estate plans. In some circumstances, joint wills can create issues that can be avoided with other estate-planning tools. In this article, we discuss some of the potential drawbacks of joint wills, and provide an introduction to some of the other options that are available.
Drawbacks of Joint Wills
While many people think of their will as something to be filed away and never touched again, the reality is that ensuring adequate flexibility is an important part of the estate planning process. Circumstances change, and when they do, these changes can often have significant impacts on people’s final wishes.
With a joint will, spouses often lose much of the flexibility that is available with other estate planning options. When the first spouse dies, the joint will goes into probate just like any other type of will. However, since the will also covers the surviving spouse’s estate, it cannot be fully probated until after the second spouse’s death. This means that property, that could have otherwise been distributed immediately, must now be held pending the surviving spouse’s passing.
This could have consequences such as, but not limited to:
- Preventing beneficiaries from receiving inheritance money that they need to go to college, save, or buy a house;
- Preventing the surviving spouse from selling the family home; and,
- Preventing the surviving spouse from changing the will to revise bequests to individuals or charities.
Note, however, that Wisconsin’s law on joint wills is actually somewhat unique. In Wisconsin, a joint will “does not create a presumption of a contract not to revoke the will or wills.” As a result, couples whose joint wills are subject to Wisconsin law may have more reason to consider a joint will under certain circumstances. However, due to the complexities involved, married couples will generally be well-advised to consider other options before deciding on a joint will for their estate plan.
Other Options for Married Couples to Plan Their Estates
If a joint will doesn’t make sense for your situation, then what does? There are numerous other estate planning options available to married couples in Wisconsin. These include:
- Reciprocal (or “mirror”) wills
- Marital property agreements
- Living and irrevocable trusts
- Retirement benefit planning and other options
To make sure that you fully consider your options and create a comprehensive estate plan that reflects your final wishes, while also providing for and minimizing uncertainty for your loved ones, it is important to work with an experienced estate planning lawyer who will take the time to get to know you and provide detailed recommendations based on your unique individual circumstances.
Disclaimer: This Article Is Not Legal Advice.
Never rely on an article for legal advice as the law frequently changes, information may not be accurate, there may be exceptions to a rule, and reliance may be detrimental. Always consult one of our experienced attorneys for competent, current, and accurate legal advice.
Contact an Estate Planning Lawyer at Crooks, Low & Connell, S.C. Today
If you would like more information about planning your estate, we invite you to contact us for a confidential consultation. To speak with one of our experienced attorneys, call our Wausau, WI law offices at (715) 842-2291 or send us a message online today.