A joint will is a will created by two people, usually husband and wife, where each person leaves all their property and assets to the other. That means, upon the death of the first spouse, the surviving spouse will receive all their spouse’s property. When the surviving spouse dies, any remaining property and assets are distributed according to the terms set forth in the will that both spouses agreed to.
One limitation of a joint will is that after the first spouse dies, the will may be very difficult or even impossible to change. A will is revocable insofar as both originators are able to sign off on changes; when one spouse dies, the surviving spouse is bound to the terms of the joint will. Depending on the circumstances, this can also be a plus as a joint will ensures that the surviving spouse follows through with the directives set forth in the joint will.
Another limitation of a joint will is that property may be tied up until the surviving spouse dies. This means that all of the first spouse’s property is inherited by the surviving spouse. Children may not receive their inheritance until the surviving spouse dies. Additionally, the surviving spouse may not sell or dispose of any property designated to heirs in a joint will. For example, if a widow lives in a large house and would prefer to move to a smaller house that’s easier to take care of, she may not be able to sell the house if it is part of the estate to be inherited by beneficiaries named in a joint will.
It is generally advisable to create two separate wills as opposed to one joint will when developing your estate plan. Separate wills can avoid the aforementioned limitations of a joint will and still provide the comfort of knowing that your final wishes will be carried out as you intend. Be sure to discuss your options with a qualified New Mexico estate planning lawyer before making any decisions regarding your final will and testament.
If you would like to establish an estate plan that meets your goals, it is important to speak with an experienced New Mexico estate planning lawyer. An estate planning lawyer can help you better understand the pros and cons of joint wills and other estate planning tools so that you can create the plan that is best for your circumstances.
Contact our New Mexico estate planning lawyers in Albuquerque, Farmington, Las Cruces, Roswell or Santa Fe today to learn how you can best prepare for the future.