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Home > Blog > Estate Planning > You and Your Spouse Can Write a Joint Will, but You Probably Shouldn’t

You and Your Spouse Can Write a Joint Will, but You Probably Shouldn’t


You can do almost anything with your estate plan, but some of the estate planning moves that it is legal to make are inadvisable in most contexts.  For example, it is possible to qualify for Medicaid nursing home benefits by spending down your assets at least five years before you apply for Medicaid, but you probably should not.  If you have so much money that you would have to spend it down, and if you are healthy enough that you probably will not need to enter a nursing home in the next five years, it is a better idea to buy long-term care insurance.  Likewise, you can set up a trust for your son but instruct the trustee not to give him a penny unless and until he marries a nice (insert attribute of your choice) girl.  In practice, this will accomplish nothing except alienating your son or giving him an incentive to enter an unhappy marriage just to get the trust money; it will not take his wife long enough to figure out that he is just using her.  Joint wills fall into the category of things that you shouldn’t do even though they are legal; case in point, it is legal for doctors to prescribe cocaine and methamphetamine, but most doctors have better judgment than to prescribe them.  If you are thinking of signing a joint will with your spouse, and you need someone to talk some sense into you, contact a Bronx estate planning lawyer.

How Do Joint Wills Work?

New York law allows married couples to sign a joint will.  This will states that, when the first spouse dies, the surviving spouse inherits the whole estate, but when the second spouse dies, the other beneficiaries indicated in the will inherit the estate.  Once both spouses have signed the will, it remains valid unless and until they both sign an agreement to invalidate it.  The second spouse cannot change the will after the first spouse dies.

There Are Better Ways to Show Your Love Than Signing a Joint Will

If you and your spouse both want the same things for your estate, then it is better to write two separate wills that are very similar to each other than it is to write a joint will.  For example, you can each write a will that says, “If I predecease my spouse, my spouse inherits my entire estate.  If my spouse predeceases me, our children inherit equal shares of my estate.”  The biggest problem with a joint will is that it prohibits you from changing your mind about your estate if you become widowed.  There are too many things about the future that you can’t predict and that might affect your estate planning decisions.  The younger you are, the worse an idea it is to sign a joint will.

Schedule a Confidential Consultation With a Bronx Estate Planning Attorney

An estate planning lawyer can help you and your spouse be realistic about your estate planning decisions.  Contact Cavallo & Cavallo in the Bronx, New York to set up a consultation.

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