Readers of this Sacramento estate planning blog can find a great deal of information about wills on this site. However, one unique will-related topic has not received much attention but deserves a discussion to introduce readers to its interesting legal significance. That topic is the joint will, and the remainder of this post will offer an explanation of what a joint will is and why it may not serve the interests of those who create them.
A joint will is a will made by two people. Usually the two people are married. Once a joint will is created it cannot be revoked by one of the parties alone. In order to revoke a joint will, both of the parties must revoke it during their lifetimes.
If a joint will is executed and one of the spouses dies then the surviving spouse inherits the complete estate of the decedent. However, that surviving spouse is then bound to the terms of their joint will for the rest of their life, as they cannot revoke it on their own and their spouse is deceased.
This can become a problem if the surviving spouse wishes to marry and offer an inheritance to their step-children or other individuals who they care for but who were not included in their joint will. For young couples who suffer the tragic loss of one of the partners early on, a joint will can leave the surviving spouse bound to its terms for an extremely long time.
Californians should always talk over their estate planning questions with attorneys who include wills in their practices. Joint wills are a unique focus of estate planning law but may not be the most effective tool for married people who wish to draft wills of their own.