The Best Type of Will for Married Couples, According to Lawyers

Because you're taking the whole "'til death do us part" thing seriously.
Couple signing documents with lawyer
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Jenn Sinrich
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Jenn Sinrich
The Knot Contributor
  • Jenn writes articles for The Knot Worldwide, with a speciality in planning advice and travel.
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Updated Feb 14, 2024

If you're someone who likes to cross their t's and dot their i's, you've probably at least thought about or maybe even Googled "best type of will for married couples." A will is a legal document that specifies the distribution of a person's estate (their belongings) after death. Sounds kind of grim, but it's actually one of the most important things you can do for yourself—and for your marriage if you have a spouse.

In fact, any adult aged 18 and over who owns any assets, regardless of the size of their estate, should have a will, according to Eve Lumsden, Esq. Managing Attorney, Lumsden Law. "In Florida, if you pass away without a will, your estate is 'intestate' and therefore Florida law will determine how your assets are distributed—a process that will take place through probate, or a court-supervised procedure for identifying and gathering the assets of a deceased person (decedent), paying the decedent's debts and distributing the decedent's assets to his or her beneficiaries," she says. "In order to retain control over one's distributions, a will (at minimum) is essential."

Married couples, especially, should have a will so that their assets usually pass to the surviving spouse, explains Gregory Stone, Managing Partner with Fisher Stone, P.C. in New York City. "If there are specific assets the deceased would like distributed to someone else, a will is key," he says. "More importantly, as blended families become more common, it is important that a will is in place to ensure there is a specific allotment of the assets."

In this article:

Types of Wills for Married Couples

As it turns out, there are several different types of wills to choose from. Here's a look at some of the most common wills for married couples.

Simple Will

As the name suggests, a simple will is pretty straightforward. "A simple will is essentially a document that outlines asset allocation and an executor of the will," says Stone. "This is for those who have no complex assets (like business ownership, real estate, investments, life insurance, etc.) or for those who are content with passing everything to their clear beneficiary such as their spouse."

Testamentary Trust Will

This type of will, Stone explains, includes provisions to create a trust or multiple trusts upon the testator's passing. "Without getting too much into trusts, the most common use for this is as a more specific allocation of assets such as when someone sets aside funds for their children to access once they reach a certain age," he adds.

Joint Will

A joint will is for two people, so it is usually reserved for married couples. "This type of will is interesting, but ultimately lacking due to the fact that once one of the individuals passes away, the will cannot be changed or revoked," says Stone.

Mirror Will

Similar to a Joint Will, a Mirror Will is near-identical for each person involved. "This is often the preferred choice for married couples because it offers more flexibility in altering the will, but ensures that distributions are left to the same beneficiaries in similar proportions, such as children," says Stone.

Living Will

As the name suggests, a living will is created for individuals who are alive; it outlines the wishes of the individual in regards to medical care, life-support measures or any other kind of incapacitation, explains Stone.

Holographic Will

Also known as handwritten or holographic will, this type of will is entirely handwritten and signed by the person creating the will (the testator). Unlike formal wills, this type of will does not require witnesses and other requirements. It's worth pointing out, however, that the rules around these types of will vary state-to-state.

Nuncupative Will

This type of will is also known as a verbal or oral will because it is spoken aloud by the testator instead of being written down. This type of will, Stone explains, is often reserved for emergency situations where a written will cannot be achieved. "These types of wills are rarely recognized as legitimate and should not be considered a true option," he adds.

Pour-Over Will

Often used in conjunction with a living trust, where once the testator passes, the assets outlined in the Pour-Over Will are transferred to the Trust as well, Stone explains. This type of will acts as a safety net to ensure assets not specifically included in the trust during the testator's lifetime are still distributed according to their overall estate plan.

How to Choose a Will for a Married Couple

Here, lawyers share the considerations they recommend making when choosing a will.

Consider Your Assets

Before you choose a will, it's smart to first consider the assets you have both individually and as a married couple. For example, if you are renting and everything you own is in that single apartment along with a single bank account, you can opt for a simple will. "The more complex your assets, the more complex your will may have to be. If you own real estate, have significant investments or business interest then your will and your wishes must be detailed and direct," notes Stone.

Consider Your Beneficiaries

Do you just have a spouse or also children? While the thought of dying is an awful one, it's important to choose who will be beneficiary for your will—aka who will receive your assets after you pass away. "When choosing a will, you must be mindful of who will be a beneficiary and how they will handle the assets allotted to them," says Stone. "If you are in a blended family for example, you may want to weigh your options more than if you were in a traditional family where your spouse would be the definitive beneficiary."

Plan for the Future

Stone points out that, while wills can always be changed, life is unpredictable. "You need to do your best to plan for the future, especially if you expect big changes in your financial situation, marital status or parenthood," he says. "If you are expecting any big changes, expect to also alter your will."

Familiarize Yourself With State Laws Surrounding Estate Planning

As with most things involving legality, each state has different rules on recognition of certain types of wills and trusts, the requirements for a valid will and the probate process, explains Stone. "It might be helpful to at least speak with an estate attorney in your area to better understand your options in creating a will," he says. "Hiring an attorney also eases the process of drafting said will in a way that clearly states your wishes."

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