Oftentimes, married couples who want to keep their estate planning as simple as possible consider creating a joint will. However, true joint wills are rarely used nowadays and often aren’t recognized by probate courts.
One of the many issues with joint wills is that because they are signed by both spouses, once one of them passes away, the surviving spouse can’t modify it. That means if one of their adult children becomes unable to handle their inheritance or the surviving spouse remarries, there’s nothing they can do to amend the original decisions made with their late spouse.
Is there an alternative option for spouses who just want to ensure that when they die, their spouse inherits everything and when that spouse is gone, their children receive the remaining assets? Typically, having two reciprocal wills can accomplish that aim.
How do reciprocal wills work?
Reciprocal wills are also known as “mirror” wills because two spouses’ wills mirror one another. Typically, they designate each other as their beneficiary when they die and their children to receive their assets when they’re both gone. Because they’re two separate documents signed individually, the surviving spouse is free to make changes after their spouse dies. Certainly, you’d have some leeway in how you write reciprocal wills, if this option appeals to you. Both spouses may designate that when they pass away, a designated amount of money goes to their children, for example.
Why not just let intestacy law kick in?
Why not skip the wills and let Arizona intestacy law take over? That’s the law that governs how assets are split among family members if a person dies without a will. In Arizona, if a person dies leaving only a spouse or a spouse and the couple’s children, the entire estate goes to the spouse. For one thing, it takes longer for an estate to go through probate when there’s no will. Further, what if you’d like some of your assets to go to charitable organizations or even to other beneficiaries (related to you or not)? By having a will in place, you can detail that your assets should be distributed in any manner that meets your needs.
Estate planning, no matter how simple or complex, is in no small part about leaving whatever legacy you want to leave. While you can avoid intestacy with just a will, there are other estate planning tools you may want to consider in order to clarify your wishes concerning end-of-life care, burial arrangements, etc. Seeking legal guidance can help you choose which estate planning documents will meet your needs.