For someone single, creating a will is a pretty straightforward process. However, it’s not nearly as straightforward for married couples.
When you’re married, you’ll likely have twice as many assets compared to those who aren’t. You may also have twice as many potential recipients when considering who will get your prized possessions.
Besides deciding who to leave your things to, you must also consider how legal ownership works. For example, if you own a house or cars, are they in just your name? Or is your spouse’s name on there, too?
As you can see, the process of creating a will as a married couple is complex. If you are married and thinking about estate planning, don’t worry — we’re breaking down your options to help you choose the best type of will for married couples and how you can get started today.
Best Type of Will for Married Couples: 3 Options
“Hi honey, let’s be sure to discuss our wills right after dropping off the kids at soccer practice,” said no married couple ever.
Estate planning isn’t a favorite topic of conversation. You’d much rather discuss what to watch on family movie night. Planning your estate can also seem like an enormous undertaking.
Luckily, the process of creating a will isn’t as challenging as you might think — you generally have three options:
- A mirror will
- A joint will
- Trust-based estate plan
Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of each option. Keep in mind that there is no one “right” answer. It varies based on your circumstances, state of residence, and goals.
Mirror wills are separate wills you and your partner can create. However, the wills have nearly identical provisions.
In this sense, the content of one spouse’s will “mirrors” the other spouse’s. For example, a husband could create a will and leave everything to his wife. At the same time, his wife can make her own will with the same provisions, leaving everything to her husband.
Keep in mind that both spouses are free to modify the terms of the will and pick another beneficiary if they choose. They are not required to leave everything to the other spouse.
If the two of you create mirror wills, you’ll benefit from:
- Flexibility: Mirror wills usually have the same provisions. However, if one spouse passes, the surviving spouse can update their will to reflect changes in their life, including new grandchildren, a new spouse, or new stepchildren.
- Security: Mirror wills prevent you from dying intestate. When you die “intestate,” you don’t have a will — and the state laws get to decide what to do with your remaining assets. Having mirror wills prevents this from happening to either spouse.
Since you are creating two documents, using mirror wills is generally more costly. However, Trust & Will offers affordable solutions. You and your spouse can designate a guardian for your children and specify health care wishes and final arrangements starting and $259 for couples.
While you plan on living happily ever after with your spouse, that isn’t always the case. A mirror will is easier to change if your spouse dies unexpectedly or you end up separating.
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A joint will can simplify the will-making process. It’s a will that the two of you create together. You can use it to appoint a guardian for your children and specify the distribution of your assets once you’re no longer living.
Creating a joint will requires you and your spouse to agree on who you want to leave your assets to and how you want your estate handled. Here’s why you might want to consider it:
- It’s easy: You and your spouse can sit down together with an attorney and get the whole process done in an afternoon.
- It’s collaborative: Sometimes, planning how your estate will be divided after your death can get awkward. A joint will can make sure you are both on the same page about what will happen with your estate.
- Reduced price: In general, creating one document is cheaper than creating two.
It sounds like a perfect solution! But a joint will is difficult to change. It requires both spouses’ approval to make changes. If one spouse passes away, the will becomes locked and difficult to update. The surviving spouse:
- May not be able to downsize out of the marital home or sell it to pay for living expenses, a new business venture, funeral costs, or other costs.
- Will have difficulty changing the will’s beneficiaries if they remarry or have another child.
- Can struggle to modify the content of the will if they buy or inherit additional assets after the first spouse passes away.
In general, a joint will is ironclad after one spouse passes away. Considering how quickly life changes, this can create major headaches for the surviving spouse.
Trust-Based Estate Plan for Married Couples
A trust is an estate planning tool that typically allows for a smooth and orderly transition of assets. With your belongings in a trust, you get a more robust approach to planning for the death of you and your spouse.
They’re more expensive to create than wills. However, they can have several advantages:
- Avoid court and the probate process
- Tax benefits
- Flexibility to change when needed
- Set up care for special needs individuals
- Protect beneficiaries from being taken advantage of by friends, family, and strangers
Trusts aren’t right for everyone, but they can be an excellent option for married couples in some situations.
Related Content: Do I Need a Will? Who Needs One and Why
How Do I Start a Will Today
You don’t typically get to plan when you’ll leave this world and move on to the next. Some people’s time will end much earlier than others — it’s much better to start estate planning sooner rather than later.
The last thing you want is to pass away with no will and have your estate turned over to the government instead of your loved ones. Here’s how to start a will today:
1. Schedule time to talk about it
Trust us, if you don’t plan time to talk about it, you’ll never get started. As a married couple, estate planning will be a group decision. You might pick a Sunday afternoon when you’ll have plenty of time to talk and won’t feel rushed.
2. Make a list of all your assets
Don’t assume you don’t have many assets. You likely have more than you think. It includes physical property (your home or any real estate investment properties), financial assets (retirement accounts, stocks, or bonds), and digital assets (intellectual property or passwords to your online accounts).
3. If you have minor children, choose a guardian
One of the most critical decisions you’ll make as a parent is who will watch over your minor children if you pass away unexpectedly. It’s unlikely you’ll find the “perfect” person — there’s no one who is just like you.
Think about your friends and family. Who shares your values, goals, and parenting style? Do they have good character, financial stability, and relatively good health?
It helps to have a backup plan by naming more than one individual. And remember, the person you name isn’t set in stone — you can change it down the line.
4. Determine your beneficiaries
The next step is to develop a detailed plan of who you want to leave your assets to. This will be a very personal decision between you and your significant other.
If there is no obvious choice to leave your assets to, consider leaving them to charity. You can leave everything or a portion of your belongings to a charity that supports a cause that you believe in.
5. Find a trusted legal team to help you
This is the most important step.
Once you have talked through the details with your significant other, you need to find a trusted legal team to help you make everything official. Estate tax laws vary by state, so you’ll want to work with a professional.
If you are looking for a good online option, visit Trust & Will. It has 4.9 out of 5 stars on Trustpilot with over 1,700 reviews. They have affordable estate planning documents specific to your state and can help you properly file your legal documents according to your state’s laws.
What do you think is the best type of will for married couples? Do you have a will set up already?
Please let us know in the comments below.