Creating Joint Wills in Washington

Financial responsibilities and legal rights change after marriage in a number of ways. Whether you’ve recently tied the knot or been married for years, making an estate plan with your spouse is an essential aspect of your life together. As a married couple, it’s important to make your estate wishes clear to each other while simultaneously supporting each other’s goals.

If you’re trying to create your estate plan and are considering a joint will, it is crucial to seek legal advice from our credible Tacoma estate planning attorney at Jones Legacy Law first. Before creating a will with your spouse, it’s important to understand how a joint will works and the pros and cons involved.

This article will give you an overview of making a joint will as a married couple in Washington State.

  • What is a Joint Will?
  • Should Married Couples Have Joint Wills?
  • What are the Potential Problems With Joint Wills?
  • What are the Alternatives to Joint Wills?

What is a Joint Will?

joint wills for married couples tacoma waA will, sometimes called a last will and testament, is an estate planning document that an individual uses to dictate who will receive some or all of their assets after death. A joint will is a single document signed by two people, usually a married couple, that clearly sets out how to distribute the couple’s property after they have both died. If you and your spouse seek to draft a joint will, you must speak with a knowledgeable Tacoma WA estate planning lawyer first to learn more about how a joint will works.

This type of will appears to both fulfill many couples’ wishes and addresses some of their key concerns. Typically, a joint will provides that:

  • when one spouse dies, the surviving spouse will inherit everything
  • when the second spouse dies, everything will go to the children

Should Married Couples Have Joint Wills?

Joint wills have various benefits depending on the aims and goals of the parties involved. It is considered the simplest and most effective way to transfer an estate between spouses or children within a family. Since a joint will allows for the estate to pass first to the other spouse and then to the children, a joint will prevents the estate from passing to someone unrelated to the family.

Whether a joint last will is a good estate planning option for you depends on your circumstances. One of the main reasons why joint wills can be useful is when a couple shares the majority, if not all, of their assets.

If you have a simple estate, neither of you gets remarried, completely agree with your spouse about where you want your property to go after you die, or your circumstances don’t change, you can consider creating a joint will. However, few people can predict with certainty whether they will get remarried, or what major events will happen in their lifetimes, often decades after they create their wills. In this case, it is essential to consult our skilled Tacoma wills attorney who can help you understand the benefits of creating joint wills.

What are the Potential Problems With Joint Wills?

A joint will for a married couple is good in theory, but it can pose challenges to the surviving spouse. Even though married couples often have the same goals in mind when making their estate plan, joint wills are rarely used today because there are far more potential problems than advantages. Before moving forward, you must know that not all states recognize the validity of joint wills. Accordingly, it is of the utmost importance to consult a qualified Tacoma estate planning lawyer to know and understand the applicable Washington law on joint wills.

Joint wills may sound like a simplified way to handle your assets after death. However, this type of will lacks flexibility and it can put people in a bind when circumstances change or if one spouse long outlives the other. Commonly, a joint will contains language that makes it irrevocable after the death of a spouse—meaning that once one of the spouses dies, the terms of the will can no longer be changed by the surviving spouse.

The surviving spouse may be tied up by some of the terms of the joint will for a long time:

  • You won’t be able to remove or add beneficiaries. For example, if you become estranged from your family, or if someone no longer needs the money, you won’t be able to remove them from the joint will.
  • You might not be able to transfer or sell property during your lifetime, even if you need the money due to changed financial or medical circumstances.
  • You won’t be able to set-up a trust for the property listed in the will, even if it would suit your situation better.
  • You cannot disinherit an adult child.
  • You can’t move assets into a special needs trust to provide for a disabled child’s needs.
  • If the surviving parent remarries and plans to leave some of the assets to a stepchild in the new blended family, the joint will prevents it. Likewise, you can’t leave any of those assets to your new spouse.
  • If one of your beneficiaries needs money sooner, you might not be able to use the assets provided in the will.

What are the Alternatives to Joint Wills?

Joint wills require that all the parties involved agree on the terms of the document, meaning that one party cannot alter the will without the consent of the other party.. To avoid potential legal issues, it is in your best interests to seek legal advice from our competent Tacoma wills attorney to help you determine the most appropriate estate plan that will benefit you and your spouse.

Joint wills can be so problematic that some probate court judges will invalidate a joint will. The simplest alternative to a joint will is two separate wills or mirror wills, one for each partner in the couple. This preserves flexibility for both spouses. Mirror wills are two, usually identical individual wills that mirror each other in distributing assets to the surviving spouse.

In some cases, trusts are much more flexible and adaptable to specific situations. In a revocable living trust, the couple can also include specific provisions as to what a beneficiary receives once both spouses have died.

The Role of Our Experienced Tacoma Estate Planning Attorneys

For married couples who want to leave everything to each other, a joint will might sound like a good idea. Creating a joint will is perceived as a less expensive and more efficient option since couples typically want the same thing. Setting up a will jointly with your spouse could make sense if you agree about what you want to do with your assets. It could also work if you don’t have a lot of assets to dispose of and only a few beneficiaries.

Unfortunately, there are significant drawbacks to joint wills in Washington State, and they often create problems for the surviving spouse. If you have concerns about how to pass on your assets to your spouse or a loved one, our seasoned Tacoma estate planning lawyers at Jones Legacy Law can help. Your needs may require precise estate planning tools, so be sure you fully understand the issues and how to protect your interests before moving forward. Working together as a couple and being straightforward is essential for successful estate planning.

Our estate planning law firm will prepare your custom estate plan to give you and your family peace of mind and security. We have extensive experience in providing a wide-range of legal services to clients in Tacoma and its surrounding areas. Contact us now and schedule a free consultation with our top-ranking Washington estate planning attorneys to get started.

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