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Joint Wills

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What Are Joint Wills?

A joint will is actually a single will document that is executed by more than one party (usually a husband and wife). The joint will is usually used by a husband and wife who are intending to distribute or dispose of common property. In relation to each partner’s property, the will basically goes into effect upon the party’s death. Each partner can usually revoke their portion of the will during their lifetime.  

The main thing is that a joint will is actually a separate distribution of property by each signatory to the document. The decision to sign the will in the same document is purely an administrative choice or convenience, as it may make it easier to execute the parties’ wishes through only one document. 

Can a Joint Will Be Revoked?

A joint will may be revoked by mutual consent of both parties during both of their lifetime. Once one of the parties dies, the will becomes irrevocable and the surviving party must comply with the terms of the will.

What Are the Advantages of Using Joint Wills?

There are several advantages associated with the use of joint wills for the distribution of property. These can include:

  • Convenience: Joint wills make it easier for a couple or multiple persons to create wills, as they can help the parties save time and costs on what would have been spent on multiple drafts
  • Keeps distributions separate: Though the parties sign the wills jointly, they are still free to make their own, separate distributions of property according to their desires. Their intentions as indicated in the joint will will usually be honored during the distribution phase
  • Accountability: While joint wills are not created with the intention of expressing mutual intent, they can help the parties keep accountable to one another, which will also help them from unnecessary revocations of the wills. 
  • Protection: A joint will can protected the assets that both parties have worked hard toward and will be prevented from passing to someone unrelated to you after your death especially if the surviving spouse remarries, surviving spouse cannot change the will.

What Are the Disadvantages of Using Joint Wills?

Because a joint will cannot be changed or modified after one of the parties dies, the other party is stuck with the terms of the will. The surviving spouse cannot leave any of the property that is in the joint will in a new will. The surviving spouse cannot sale any of the property in the joint will even if they own it since its held for someone else after the surviving spouse passes away.

How Are Joint Wills Different from a Mutual Will?

Mutual wills are two different wills that are created, whose conditions make the wills mutually binding on the other. In a mutual will, each party makes their own separate will, but includes instructions that condition the distribution of property on the other party’s mutual will. 

In contrast, a joint will only involves one will document, which is signed by more than one party. Unlike mutual wills, the instructions contained in a joint will are not necessarily dependent on the other party’s. As mentioned, the joint will is used mainly as an administrative convenience, and does not create responsibility to the other party unless indicated.

What Are “Joint and Mutual Wills”?

“Joint and mutual wills” are wills that are jointly executed by two or more persons, just like a joint will. However, the joint and mutual will also contains reciprocal provisions that make the distributions of property dependent on the other. Thus, joint and mutual wills are basically combinations of the joint will and the mutual wills. 

Depending on the situation, joint and mutual wills can also be advantageous, as they offer both reciprocal instructions as well as the administrative convenience of filing one document. 

Do I Need a Lawyer for Assistance with Joint Wills?

Drafting and executing a will can be complex, especially if you are attempting to distribute your property in conjunction with your spouse or loved one. If so, you may wish to contact an estate lawyer for advice on whether a joint will is appropriate for your situation. Your attorney can help you choose the right will device for you and the other parties involved. In addition, a lawyer can provide legal representation in the event that a lawsuit arises over the will document.

Photo of page author Kourosh Akhbari

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 02-13-2015 10:21 AM PST

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