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Should you and your spouse make a joint will or a separate will?

When a California couple gets married, they usually adhere to the adage of "what's mine is yours." They buy a house and apply for a mortgage that could be under both of their names. They often open shared bank accounts and credit cards as well to combine their incomes. 

If couples have so many joint assets, then they might consider making a joint will to save time and money. But is this truly a good plan?

How does a joint will work?

A joint will works like any other will, except for two primary factors:

  1. Upon the death of one spouse, the surviving spouse will inherit the entire estate.
  2. When the second spouse passes, then their children shall inherit the estate.

In California, surviving spouses already receive all of the community property upon the death of their spouse. But a joint will would leave the entire estate to them.

These kinds of wills are not as common nowadays. They were more widely used in the 20th century. However, creating a joint will is still an option in California, and while it might help a couple save some time and money on their estate plan, it can also lead to some complex problems.

Joint wills might cause some issues in the future

A couple who creates a joint will can usually only revoke or change the will together. One spouse cannot do it alone. This can often lead to some issues in the future after one spouse passes away. The surviving spouse might face some challenges, including:

  • If they try to revoke or change the will alone, even after their spouse passes away 
  • If they remarry, they are usually still bound by the joint will
  • They might not be able to sell assets covered in the will, such as the house 

It might be possible to address these issues within the will. For example, couples can agree to include a clause that will allow one spouse to revoke the will if necessary after one spouse passes.

Separate wills give couples more options

Even though a couple can address potential issues within a joint will, it might actually save couples time and money in the long run if they create separate wills.

They can still work together to create their own wills, especially to ensure they do not contradict each other. But making separate wills usually offers individuals more freedom to establish their unique wishes and make changes to their will in the future.

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