James D. Lynch
Joint Wills vs. Reciprocal Wills
A joint will is the will of both husband and wife executed in the same document and intended to serve as the will of each. There are several disadvantages to joint wills. A joint will must be probated twice – once after each spouse dies. In addition, a joint will cannot be changed after the first spouse dies – the surviving spouse will be bound by its terms. Joint wills were more common when wills were done by type-writers and it was too tedious to type up a will two times. There is no longer a need for joint wills in this modern era of word processors.
Reciprocal wills are two separate wills executed by husband and wife that contain substantially similar (mirror-image) provisions. For example, their wills may reflect the exact same provisions, naming the transfer of their estate to each other when one predeceases the other, and the transfer of their estate to their beneficiaries upon the death of the last surviving spouse. As long as the spouses have not executed a separate written agreement preventing each other from amending their own will later on, either spouse can change the agreed-upon distribution at any time, even after the death of one spouse.