Joint Wills Are Not a Bargain

While we rarely see joint wills, they do come up often enough in conversations with clients to warrant a brief mention here. The context is usually the mistaken belief that a joint will might simplify the overall estate plan or, perhaps, result in a lower attorney fee.  In reality, neither is true.  The reasons why are summarized in a recent ruling by the Michigan Court of Appeals. Here’s what happened.

A husband and wife executed a joint will naming their three children and the child of the husband’s previous marriage as beneficiaries of their estate. This joint will went on to say that upon the death of the first spouse, the surviving spouse had complete control over the property, up to and including the right to sell it. But, whatever property remained upon the death of the second spouse was to be distributed pursuant to the provisions of the joint will.

The wife died in 2006 and, in 2015, the husband executed a new will that changed the plan of distribution. In resolving the dispute over which will would be enforced, the court cited language of the joint will, ruling that it created a binding contract between the husband and wife that became irrevocable after the wife’s death. As a result, the estate was to be distributed pursuant to the joint will, thereby rendering the husband’s 2015 will void.

Do you have a joint will? Do you know someone who does? We’d be happy to discuss its ramifications with you. Depending on the provisions of the joint will, we may be able to come up with possible alternatives to avoid an undesired outcome. Please call (248) 477-6300 and ask to speak to one of our estate planners.