By Lane V. Erickson, Idaho Estate Planning Attorney

Estate planning, and coming up with a written estate plan, doesn’t need to be difficult. When you have the right help, and you are doing it the right way, it can actually be a fairly simple process. However, many well-meaning individuals often seek to do their own estate plan or to have it done by individuals who are not experienced. When this happens, mistakes begin to occur that can have a big impact on how a person’s estate is distributed after they are gone.

One of the things that I’ve seen coming up more recently, is when a husband and wife do a joint last will and testament. In other words, rather than each of the spouses having their own separate last will and testament, they create a joint last will and testament that both of them sign, have witnessed, and then have notarized.

To put it simply, this is legal and it creates an enforceable and valid last will and testament. However, it’s just a bad idea. Here are the main reasons why.

It is unlikely that both spouses are going to pass away at the same time. It’s possible that one spouse could pass away many years before the second spouse. If this were to happen, it’s possible that the surviving spouse could become remarried or have more kids or adopt kids or some other family relationship may be created or change. Depending on how the joint will was written it could be a binding contract between both spouses that can only be changed by the signature of both spouses. As a result, after one spouse passes away, the second spouse may be stuck with the joint will.

The goal of estate planning is to give a person the ability to create a customized plan that will help them individually while they are alive and after they have passed away. A good estate plan is flexible so that it can be updated and changed whenever the need arises. I usually suggest my clients review and/or update their estate plan anytime a major life change occurs.

Major life changes include a loved one’s birth, or death, or marriage, or divorce, or when someone moves away, or just the passage of a long period of time. When any of these things happen, it could change everything about what your estate plan is doing or needs to do. You should have the flexibility and the ability to change your estate plan to meet your current needs.

For example, if you become divorced, or you are married to a new spouse, or  you have a child born or pass away, your estate plan should reflect these changes in your life. By having a joint will, you lose the ability to make any changes. In other words, you no longer have any flexibility even if the circumstances of your life change.

Joint wills are sort of like Model T Fords, they were popular and helpful at a certain time, but they outlived their usefulness because the Tesla has come along. While this may be an extreme example between cars, it is given to illustrate the point that your estate plan should be modern, and flexible for you. For this reason, I always discourage my clients from getting a joint will.

If you have any questions or concerns about how to do your own estate planning, we can help.


If you have any questions about your estate or how to simplify your plans for your family and loved ones, we can help.  Call us toll free at 877-232-6101 or 208-232-6101 for a free consultation with Lane Erickson and the Racine Olson team of Estate Planning attorneys in Pocatello. You can also email Lane Erickson directly at We will answer your questions and will help you solve your Pocatello Estate Planning problems. I have helped numerous clients create their own customized estate plans and I’m confident that I can help you too.

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