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One common question about wills and trusts is about joint or mutual wills. Many people ask attorneys why joint wills are never recommended by attorneys. The reason is not that attorneys want to get more of your money by drafting two wills instead of one. Also, most people may see it as an extra expense that is unnecessary since a couple can just get a “joint will” or “mutual will.” Those assumptions, however, are incorrect. Today, the attorney of Skillern Law Firm and the Tulsa Estate Planning Blog will explain why no (rational) attorney would recommend or even draft a joint will.
First, let’s go through the different types of Wills.
A Joint Will is one document that covers the Wills of two (or more) people, usually a husband and wife. When each of them passes away, the Will is probated and administered for the deceased spouse, and the Will is supposed to then serve as the Last Will and Testament of the surviving spouse. This can and most likely will be problematic for most people. One problem, for example, is what happens if the surviving spouse moves on with their life and has a change of circumstance or even a remarriage. What if a child, who was an angel during the lifetime of the deceased spouse, suddenly abandons their family? The surviving spouse’s right to disinherit the child, or even lower the child’s rights in the joint will is unclear. It is always ambiguous how strictly a surviving spouse is bound to the terms of an old Joint Will. This can be a bigger problem when the couple created a joint will while young. What if a young spouse unexpectedly dies, leaving the spouse with a will that may bind the surviving spouse for 40, 50, or 60 years? This is a risk easily (and cheaply) avoided by each spouse creating their own will. Historically, Joint wills were common since they were regarded as a money-saving and labor-saving technique, but through all these complications and the use of computers, these concerns are now moot.
Mutual Will is another type of will sometimes used in Oklahoma. Mutual wills are two separate wills created with a legal agreement that neither will can be cancelled or altered after one of the spouses has died. This is a difficult situation to protect legally and attorneys often encourage spouses to make a moral obligation to each other, rather than a legal obligation.
The most common solution, and one that the attorney at Skillern Law Firm supports, if for spouses to get Reciprocal Wills or Mirror Wills. In these wills, each spouse has their own document, and each name their other spouse and the main beneficiary, with maybe their children as alternative beneficiaries. This is very common not only for married couples but also for civil partners or those in civil unions. Each reciprocal will is separate and there is no binding, legal agreement applied to the surviving partner who is perfectly entitled to amend this Will or prepare a brand new will in the future.
Skillern Law Firm does not support joint wills and we discourage them to clients and friends. We also do not support mutual wills for the preceding reasons.
We do however allow for people to create Reciprocal or Mirror Wills and this aligns with our philosophy that every single person needs to have a Last Will and Testament in place. If you are thinking about a will, or want to know why you may need one, please read another entitled, “Why Should I Get A Will Now?” Or, if you and your spouse has decided to get a will, feel free to contact us today to set up a free appointment.
A few years ago, my mother sent me the Jessica’s morning affirmation video. I haven’t woken up every morning with Jessica’s joie de vivre, this morning I did. My whole house is great. I can do anything good. I realized that I can really make a difference for same-sex couples with estate planning. I’m not as sure about my hairs or haircuts, but that’s a moot point.
The actual point: estate planning can solve many problems that the law creates for same-sex couples living in states that do notrecognize same-sex marriages.
Same-sex couples are not able to benefit from inheritance laws that enable spouses to take property under homestead laws. Oklahoma intestacy laws would not allow for a same-sex spouses to inherit anything. Therefore it is much more imperative for same-sex couples to invest in estate planning than hetero couples.
Both wills and trusts can establish inheritance for same-sex couples. Trusts offer basically the same inheritance options that wills do (please see our previous post), with the added benefit of privacy. Wills are open to the public when they are entered into the probate court after death, but trusts are only public in so much as that one has been created.
Same-sex families that adopt face unique child custody issues facing the death of one parent. Oklahoma laws allow only one parent of same-sex couples to be the adoptive parent. Parental rights follow this parent. If that parent passes away, then the other parent has no legal parental rights over the child. A will or trust can remedy the situation by specifying who will raise the child after death.
This is not to say that estate planning is a substitute for marriage. I in no way want to insinuate that signing a trust document provides the same joy that saying I do ever will. However, this is an option that Oklahoma provides that same-sex couples should take advantage of today. Skillern Law Firm can set up a trust for you and your spouse to help you with your estate planning needs.
Check out other posts at Tulsa Estate Planning Blog.