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What are Reciprocal Wills?
Reciprocal wills are sometimes used by married couples or life partners as a simple means of securing the transfer of property to the other spouse upon death. Reciprocal wills between spouses are where basically mirror images of one another.
In a reciprocal will arrangement, each spouse will leave all or the majority of their estate to the other. In the even that one spouse dies, the reciprocal wills guarantee that the surviving spouse will receive all or most of the deceased spouse’s estate.
The structure of reciprocal wills typically allows each individual spouse to distribute specific items to individual beneficiaries besides the spouse. Then, the surviving spouse will receive whatever is left of the estate after such distributions (which can be a sizeable portion of the estate). In most cases reciprocal wills will state that if the beneficiary spouse has already become deceased, the surviving spouse’s estate will pass to the children, since the parent is no longer left to receive the distributions.
What do Reciprocal Wills Cover?
The main aspect that reciprocal wills cover is the distribution of property. As mentioned, each spouse states that they will transfer their estate upon to the other through the will document.
However, like any other type of will, reciprocal wills can address other matters including:
- Care and guardianship of children
- Management of debts and taxes
- Instructions regarding funeral and burial preferences
- Transfer of non-tangible benefits such as retirement funds
- Operation of jointly owned businesses
- Other topics such as trust funds and specific devises
For the most part, reciprocal wills tend to be simpler since the bulk of each spouse’s estate will be transferred to the other. However, it is wise to consider these other matters when drafting a will.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of using Reciprocal Wills?
Whether or not to use a reciprocal will arrangement will mostly depend on the needs and desires of the couple. Some of the advantages and disadvantages to consider with reciprocal wills include:
- Reciprocal wills allow the couple to avoid the probate process, and avoid property reverting back to the state
- Allows the couple to reach a very clear understanding regarding their assets
- Allows property to remain within the family circle
- Issues may arise if the couple does not have children to step into the shoes of a deceased partner
- May be impractical if several other beneficiaries must be considered besides the spouse
- May not be necessary if not so much property is involved
Also, the laws of each state may be different when it comes to reciprocal will agreements. For example, some states may only allow a spouse to collect property from a deceased spouse only if they have survived their spouse for a certain period of time (such as 30 days).
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With Reciprocal Wills?
Reciprocal wills can be very advantageous for couples seeking to manage their estates. It may be helpful to consult with a lawyer if you have questions regarding reciprocal wills. An experienced lawyer can advise you on whether reciprocal wills are appropriate for you, and they can help you draft and revise the will as well. In the event that a dispute arises over a reciprocal will, a lawyer can also be available to represent you during court proceedings.
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Last Modified: 03-14-2013 02:18 PM PDT
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