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Beyond the Simple Will: Other Kinds of Wills

Although the simple will is right for just about everyone, you do have other options for your will. Other types of wills, along with the drawbacks of each, include:

  • A joint will, is a single legal document that applies to two people (you and your spouse, for example). Some married couples mistakenly think that they’re required to have a joint will, or that a joint will is better for them than two simple wills.

    Joint wills are usually a bad idea because most courts treat a joint will as a contract that is irrevocable and can’t be changed after one party dies. Therefore, if your spouse dies first and you want to revise the contents of your joint will for estate planning or tax purposes, you probably can’t.

  • A mutual will, is used to coordinate your estate planning with someone else, such as your brother. For example, suppose that you and your brother want to leave a substantial amount of money to be split among two charities. You can create mutual wills in which:

    • No matter which one of you dies first, 75 percent of either your estate or that of your sibling goes to Charity No.1, with 20 percent going to Charity No.2 and 5 percent going to some other beneficiary.

    • When the other one of you dies, 50 percent of that person’s estate will go to Charity No.2, with 30 percent going to Charity No. 1 and 20 percent designated for some other beneficiary.

      Basically, because you don’t have a crystal ball to tell you and your sibling which one of you will die first (and even if you did, would you really want to know?), you both have set things up so no matter what happens, Charity No.1 receives a larger amount of money first than Charity No.2 does. If you think a mutual will is particularly suitable for some unique aspect of your estate, ask your attorney and then proceed with caution.

  • A holographic will is handwritten and signed by you. A handwritten will doesn’t require an attorney to be involved when you prepare this form of will. However, only some states recognize a holographic will as valid, which means that you may think you have a valid will, but in fact you don’t.

  • A nuncupative will, is a spoken will. Even though creating a nuncupative will is extremely easy — all you have to do is talk and have someone present to listen — you have many complications and limitations. Some states only allow persons who are on their death bed to use a nuncupative will for a last-minute expression of what they want done with part of their estate. Some states only allow certain types of property or property only up to a certain dollar amount to be transferred with a nuncupative will.

Don’t use any of the preceding nonstandard types and forms of wills except in extraordinary circumstances.

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