Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Dec 16, 2019

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A joint will is one that two people make together, each leaving all of their property and assets to the other. It also stipulates what will happen with the assets when the second person dies. This type of will is essentially a contract between the two makers and requires the consent of both for it to be revoked. On the plus side, a joint will is designed to prevent the surviving person, usually the spouse, from changing his mind about the disposition of the property after the first person dies. For example, if you were worried that your wife would remarry after your death and might rewrite her will to leave everything to her new stepchild, the joint will might make sense.

But, on the negative side, joint wills can tie up property for years until the second person dies, and the survivor is unable to revise the will to reflect changed circumstances. During those years, the survivor’s situation might change so much that a new will would be appropriate, but the deceased person cannot approve a new will. The survivor is either stuck with the will as written, or else will have to go through all kinds of legal hoops to try to invalidate the original contract. For example, suppose your husband dies first, and your daughter later marries a millionaire and doesn’t need your money. Unfortunately, all of the property that came to you through the joint will will have to be passed on as the will dictates and you have no choice in the matter.

Discuss the pros and cons with an estate attorney before you decide you want a joint will. A couple can use two separate Wills to accomplish most of the sensible goals of a joint will and avoid its limitations and potential problems. Sometimes it is better to have faith that the surviving half of the couple will make sensible decisions.