Does a joint will have to go through probate?

A fellow caregiver asked...

If a husband dies leaving all jointly owned property to his wife, must his joint will be probated?

Expert Answer

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.

Simple as this question sounds, it actually raises a couple of issues. First, if the husband and wife actually own property jointly -- that is, it is designated as "joint tenancy with right of survivorship," "tenancy by the entirety," or "community property with right of survivorship" on the deed or other title document -- that property passes directly to the wife, would not be included in his will, and would not pass through probate.

But if he had a catch-all will designating beneficiaries for his other property, that will must usually go through some sort of probate procedure.

If the husband and wife truly own most property jointly, then there may be little property of value to be distributed under the will. If this is the case, the husband's will may be handled under a simplified "summary probate" or "affidavit procedure" available in most states. To find out the local requirements, search online using terms such as "small estate" and "court" and the name of the state where the husband died. Be sure you get this preliminary information directly from an official court website, not from someone who is trying to make a living by handling probates for others.