Many couples do all their financial and estate planning together. It seems expedient and keeps both of them completely informed. But is this always a good idea? Are there times when a husband and wife need separate Wills?
A joint Will is a single legal document that typically says the surviving spouse receives the entire estate. One big disadvantage to using a joint Will is that both spouses must agree to change or revoke the Will. For example, Jack and Marie sign a joint Will. Jack dies while their two children are very young. Marie remarries and has one more child. She’s unable to change her Will to include her youngest child or provide for her new spouse. For this and other reasons, joint Wills are not common because better options are available.
Even if a couple consults with an attorney at the same time, it is not necessary or advisable for them to prepare a joint Will (although the provisions within each separate will may be similar). In fact, there are several reasons that a husband and wife need separate Wills:
Let’s consider how Jack and Marie could have handled their estate planning. Instead of a joint Will, they prepared separate Wills. They left most of their estates to each other. However, Marie left a gift to her alma mater and Jack bequeathed his boat to his fishing buddy. They provided for their children in both their Wills and in a revocable living trust.
The answer to the question, “Do a husband and wife need separate Wills?” is yes, they do. Just because joint Wills exist does not mean they are an appropriate choice. Most couples fare better with separate Wills.
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