If you’re married, whether legally or common law, you’ve likely discussed creating a will with your spouse. There are several decisions you need to make in your will, from appointing an executor, to choosing beneficiaries, to choosing a guardian for your minor children if you have any. But how does it actually work when you create a will with your spouse? There are several options for couples creating a will, including mirrored wills and joint wills, and several strategies for couples with blended families, including spousal trusts. In this article we break down each option so you can feel confident you’re creating wills that reflect your wishes.
Do married couples and spouses need separate wills?
Except in rare instances, when you’re making a will as a couple, you’re each making your own document. You each have your own will that reflects your wishes and that distributes your assets, outside of anything owned jointly with your spouse or any life insurance policies or registered savings accounts with named beneficiaries. In your will you can appoint your spouse in key roles, and work with your spouse to make similar decisions so your wills are aligned. Think about it like your taxes: even when you file your taxes as a married couple, you each have your own tax returns.
How do I make a will with my spouse on Willful?
On Willful, each spouse gets their own account and creates their own documents, though you can decide on key decisions together (for example, a guardian for your children, or who your beneficiaries will be). Our Family plans allow you to purchase two plans at once, and invite your spouse from your account page. That way you each have your own account, and you can make changes at any point - even if your life situation changes.
What is a mirror will?
At Willful we used to offer a mirrored will for couples - in fact many of our users still have a mirrored plan. A mirror will allows certain choices to be “mirrored” in your spouse’s will - for example a mirrored will can default to leaving everything to your spouse when you pass away, and then it accounts for what happens if both spouses were to pass away at the same time. This can be limiting for some couples, since there isn’t flexibility to make individual choices - for example if your spouse was one of several beneficiaries you wanted to leave your assets to, a mirrored plan wouldn’t be a fit. For that reason, we’ve shifted to offering individual plans at Willful. It’s also important to note that mirror wills don’t include any legally-binding obligations, so the surviving spouse can edit their will after one spouse passes away. On Willful you can achieve the same result as a mirrored will by choosing the option to leave everything to your spouse when you pass away, like in the example below:
What if I want to make one will with my spouse? Can I do that?
In Canada there is something called a “mutual will,” which allows two people - typically spouses - to make their wills and to include or add on an agreement that the other won’t change the will when they pass away. It is called a joint will if it is all contained in one document. These types of wills are not common today, and we do not accommodate them on Willful. Imagine, for example, you want to remarry after your spouse passes away - with a mutual will, you would not be able to amend your will to include a new spouse. Typically spouses create their own wills, and either mirror the choices, or use tactics like a trust to ensure their wishes are followed after they pass.
What is a joint will or mutual will?
We often get questions from couples who ask about joint wills. Joint wills are not common - they are simply the wishes of two or more people reflected in one document (a joint will can also be a mutual will, which means it can’t be altered when one party passes away). We do not accommodate joint wills on Willful.
What if I have a blended family and I want to ensure my assets pass to my children when my surviving spouse passes away?
It’s quite common these days to have second marriages with children from previous marriages. In this case, spouses typically want to ensure that if they leave everything to their spouse when they pass away, that spouse won’t be able to cut the children out of their will when they pass. Unless you have specifically planned for it, a surviving spouse can update their will at any time, and remove any beneficiaries. For that reason, couples with blended families may want to consider the following options:
- Creating a spousal trust - this allows you to pass to your spouse for their enjoyment while they’re alive, and upon their death the assets pass to your children
- Will alternatives - Another way to ensure assets go to your children is to name them as beneficiaries on life insurance policies and registered savings accounts - in that case, there will be some assets that won’t pass through the will, and will go directly to your children
- Create a mutual will with a clear agreement that prohibits the surviving spouse from altering the will
At this time, Willful does not allow for the creation of mutual (joint) wills, or spousal trusts.
You can easily create a will with your spouse by choosing Willful’s Family option - by selecting two Premium plans, you and your spouse will each create a will and both power of attorney document, all for $250. Your plans also come with unlimited free changes. Click here to get started for free.