What are Reciprocal Wills?

by | Feb 16, 2023

When you are married you likely intend to spend forever with your spouse. Through uniting legally and financially with your spouse you are expressing a reflection of your emotional bond with one another. Of course, this is all wonderful and there is nothing wrong with it, however there will probably come a time when one spouse will be forced to depart from this world first, leaving the surviving spouse alone. 

Although it is not enjoyable to think about death, it is a necessity when it comes to making sure your spouse and family are taken care of in the case of your death. You also want to make sure you are taken care of if your spouse is the one who ends up dying first. One common estate planning tool that many married couples utilize that you may want to consider are reciprocal wills. 

What are reciprocal wills? 

It is somewhat self-explanatory what reciprocal wills are. They are basically identical wills for each spouse. Generally, the only difference between the wills is that the names of the beneficiaries and the testator are switched. This means the other spouse is the beneficiary of each will, however children and other family members and loved ones can also be added as beneficiaries to reciprocal wills. 

How do reciprocal wills work? 

If there are no other beneficiaries, with reciprocal wills, the surviving spouse has total control over the assets of the estate. Therefore, the surviving spouse can do whatever one wishes with the assets, as long as it is not disallowed in the will. This is why it is important that you and your spouse have common goals and values and fully communicate with each other when deciding on reciprocal wills as an estate planning strategy. 

When should you choose to use reciprocal wills? 

If you and your spouse are in complete agreement about how to distribute estate assets then reciprocal wills might be an ideal estate planning strategy. Reciprocal wills are best used for estates that are not legally complicated. Also, reciprocal wills are known to be less expensive to create due to being able to streamline the estate planning process. 

Differences between reciprocal wills and joint wills 

Another estate planning strategy that is similar to reciprocal wills are joint wills. Both of these strategies entail estate planning for both spouses, but many people may not be completely aware of the differences between these two approaches. With a joint will, rather than having two separate wills for each spouse, there will only be one will that covers both spouses. Also, unlike reciprocal wills which can be altered after the first spouse passes away, the surviving spouse cannot change a joint will. 

Are reciprocal wills right for you and your spouse? 

It really depends on each couple’s situation as to whether or not reciprocal wills make sense. Be sure to not rush the decision. You and your spouse need to be completely transparent with one another about your values and wishes when it comes to administering your estate. Consultation with a financial advisor can also aid in the process of estate planning.