Can a married man and woman living in California have one will?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 14, 2017
A fellow caregiver asked...

Can a married man and woman living in California have one will? If so, is it advisable?

Expert Answers

Barbara Repa, a senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

A married couple can make a single joint will, but even if both agree about how their property should be distributed, it's usually not advisable, for a number of practical and legal reasons.

Intentionally or not, joint wills prevent a surviving spouse from changing his or her mind about what to do with the property after the first spouse dies. The practical effect is often to tie up the property for years in property and title determinations that can often last long after the second spouse dies.

Also, many court battles are fought over whether the surviving spouse is legally entitled to change or revoke any part of the will.

Some couples still insist on preparing there own joint wills, simply feeling it is a chummier arrangement. And there are still some lawyers who will agree to write joint wills for clients, but they do so at the risk that such wills may become cumbersome, or even found invalid in later court challenges.

For all these reasons, it's best for each spouse to write a separate will"”a bit more time-consuming, perhaps, but a lot safer from a legal standpoint.