For married couples who want to leave everything to each other, a joint will might sound like a good idea. There’s an assumption that creating a joint will for both spouses is less expensive and more efficient, since they typically want the same thing. Unfortunately, there are significant drawbacks to joint wills in Texas, and they often create problems for the surviving spouse. An experienced estate planning attorney can offer more suitable alternatives than a joint will for a married couple.
What Is a Joint Will in Texas?
A joint will is a legal contract between two people that combines their bequests into one last will and testament. In other words, both people are sharing the same will. Typically, married couples execute joint wills because their wishes are the same.
The terms of a joint will for a husband and wife usually include the following:
- At the death of one spouse, the surviving spouse will inherit everything; and
- Once the surviving spouse dies, the remaining property in the estate goes to the couple’s surviving children.
This all sounds simple enough, but joint wills become problematic when circumstances change for the surviving spouse.
Pros and Cons of Joint Wills in Texas
If you want to be sure that your spouse cannot up and decide to leave property to someone you didn’t choose, then a joint will can accomplish that. For example, if the surviving partner were to remarry or have children with someone else, you may not want your property and assets going to them. With a joint will, the surviving spouse cannot change any bequests or terms in the will once the first spouse passes away.
For some, joint wills mean financial security for their spouse because they know what assets he or she will get eventually. However, there are better estate planning methods, such as creating mirror wills or setting up a trust, that can yield the same result.
Joint wills are legal contracts. To change any terms, you need both parties. This is impossible if one party is dead. As soon as the first spouse dies, the will becomes irrevocable. No matter the circumstances, the surviving spouse cannot change the terms of the joint will. Think of how complicated this may be for the surviving husband or wife if they live many years longer. Without being able to adjust their will, they can’t make financial decisions that may better suit their needs or the needs of others.
For example, if a child or grandchild needs money for college, a down payment, unexpected medical bills, or any other financial help, the assets are locked up and can only be used according to the terms of the joint will. If the surviving spouse needs to sell an asset, such as a house, to cover his or her nursing home care, that cannot be done when someone else is supposed to inherit the house. If relationships sour and the surviving spouse wants to disinherit a child, he or she won’t be able to do that either.
A child’s poor spending habits may become a concern down the road. With a joint will, the surviving spouse can’t protect their child’s inheritance and set up a trust. That inheritance will go to the child outright when the time comes.
With separate wills, either spouse can freely revoke and amend their will as long as they are mentally and physically capable. This provides freedom and flexibility when life circumstances change, which inevitably happens.
Can You Update a Joint Will?
Joint wills for married couples can only be updated during the lifetime of both spouses. When one spouse passes away, the other spouse can’t make changes to the joint will.
Contact a Skilled Estate Planning Attorney to Discuss a Texas Will for a Married Couple
There are much better estate planning tools for you to distribute your estate than using a joint will. In Texas, joint wills are often advised against because they complicate matters for the surviving spouse and other family members.
At the Robbins Estate Law, we take our time understanding your goals and wishes. With that information, we craft a unique estate plan that satisfies your needs. We are committed to helping you create financial and emotional security for your family.
Contact us to schedule a free consultation and start planning your legacy today.