Most people are aware of the importance of a will yet do not understand that there are different types of wills. Complicating the matter all the more is the potential for a surviving spouse to potentially alter a mutual will that was initially created by both spouses under the guidance of an estate planning attorney. Let’s take a look at the different types of wills in the context of estate planning and whether spouses are legally empowered to amend mutual wills.
What is a Mutual Will?
It is quite common for spouses to create wills that are similar. Some spouses have wills that are exact or near exact replicas. As an example, plenty of spouses’ wills state that if one is to die, the entirety of the estate will be bequeathed to the spouse that survives. Most such wills also share language that states the remainder of the assets are to be distributed to children or the same specific individuals and/or charities.
At this point, you are likely wondering, “Can a surviving spouse change a mutual will?” Though surviving spouses are empowered to change such a reciprocal will as desired, the same is not true with every single type of will. Mutual wills are an example of wills that do not empower surviving spouses with the freedom to alter the language of this important legal document.
Mutual wills are unique in that the spouses agree that the spouse who survives will not alter the will after the other passes on. Mutual wills are not the most common type of will yet they are considered amongst spouses who have children together. The logic in creating such a will is to prevent one spouse from obstructing the bequeathment of assets to children after the other passes away. Another situation mutual wills are considered is where people co-own property to be bequeathed to a certain subset of heirs.
Experienced estate planning lawyers draft the language of mutual wills with language that clearly states both spouses have declared they forbid the other from altering the will distribution plan in the event of death. Though either spouse is legally empowered to alter the language of a mutual will while living, sufficient notice must be provided to the other spouse.
In short, the answer to the question of “Can a mutual will be changed?” is complex. Spouses who desire to change a mutual will while their spouse is still living are required to do so in an open manner, meaning the alteration cannot be done without the other spouse’s knowledge. The spouse amending his or her will must provide the other spouse with sufficient notice so that individual can also amend his/her will as desired. However, once one spouse passes away, the surviving spouse cannot amend the mutual will, meaning there is a limited window of opportunity for such an amendment.
What’s the Difference Between a Joint Will and Mutual Will
If you are like most people, you aren’t exactly sure how mutual wills differ from joint wills. Instead of searching through page after page of search engine results after sleuthing for “joint wills and mutual wills”, “mirror will vs mutual will” or “mutual will vs joint will”, the better approach is to consult with our experts. As is often said, the fastest way to learn something new is to ask an individual with the coveted knowledge. Let’s take a quick look at the difference between joint will and mutual will.
Joint wills are legal documents that empower a couple to adjoin their Last Will and Testament into one unified document. As an example, one of these spouses will inherit the couples’ estate when the other passes away. Once the second spouse passes away, the entirety of the estate will be bequeathed to beneficiaries as stated by the partners.
Mutual wills are slightly different from joint wills though their purpose overlaps. Mutual wills are two similar wills that are supported through a distinct document that legally binds the surviving spouse to a specific distribution of assets, effectively creating a joint will. Joint wills and mutual wills have the potential to pose some challenges. Though creating such an unalterable will provides peace of mind, legal battles have taken place in several jurisdictions to determine the level that joint wills are legally binding or irrevocable following the initial partner’s death. As an example, complications can arise if the surviving spouse decides to transition to a new romantic relationship or if the primary beneficiary becomes estranged after time progresses.
It must be noted that the creation of a mutual will does not eliminate the potential for a challenge to the estate. Though such a will is likely to help prevent such a challenge from being successful, a party that feels as though he or she has been unjustly excluded from the mutual will might be inclined to issue a legal challenge. It is also possible that the survivor will attempt to spend through the estate assets or alter the ownership of such assets to prevent the mutual will from being executed. The assistance of an experienced estate planning lawyer will prove invaluable in such instances.
Mirror Will Vs. Mutual Will
Mirror wills and mutual wills are not one and the same. Spouses’ mirror wills are identical or nearly identical to one another. The language of these wills reflects one another, hence the term “mirror.” Either will-maker can revoke or alter a mirror will as desired. Mirror wills can be altered at any point in time, even after one of the two will creators passes away. This is precisely why young couples and those in blended families who might desire alterations as time progresses tend to favor mirror wills. However, altering a mirror will or revoking one of the mirror wills is possible without informing the other spouse. As an example, if a wife in a blended marriage no longer desires that her step-children inherit her assets can legally alter her mirror will without informing her current spouse.
If each spouse desires his or her own distinct will that creates a legally binding contract between them, a mutual will is necessary. Mutual wills are written with language both parties agree to, ultimately preventing those parties from altering or revoking their will unless the other agrees to such changes or revocation. Mutual wills are favored as they are a nearly bulletproof legal contract that safeguards beneficiaries’ estate interests. Once one of the spouses passes away, the wills are then irrevocable and unalterable.
Wills and Estate Planning Guidance is a Call Away
Do not attempt to navigate the increasingly complex estate planning maze on your own. If you were to attempt to write your own will and someone issued a challenge, your hard-earned assets would be put at risk and likely end up in the hands of those you did not select as beneficiaries.